When it comes to adolescent health, adults—including parents, clinicians, and teachers—often focus on how to prevent teens from taking risks. But a recent report from the Board on Children, Youth, and Families at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that healthy risk taking is a normal and necessary part of growing up and becoming independent.
Optimal health is a balance achieved through lifelong trial and error, and taking risks is an important component of that. Rather than discouraging all risk taking, adults who live or work with adolescents should listen to them and openly discuss how to navigate the risks they face.
Living my best life would include being physically, mentally, and emotionally fit and striving every day to reach a sense of stability.
– 17-year-old male 1
Just like adults, adolescents are experts in their own experiences. We asked more than 1,000 adolescents what it means for them to be healthy and thrive.
See what they had to say:
Binge drinking, smoking, and unsafe sex. These often come to mind when people think of adolescent health risks. But health isn't just about how you treat your body. Optimal health is achieved through a dynamic balance of five elements—physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual—and adults need to provide adolescents with support in each. Explore the elements, their influences, and examples of their associated risks below.
Click on an element below to learn more.
Adolescents need certain social and emotional skills to differentiate between the healthy and unhealthy risks.
Learning these skills is a process—we need to teach them early and often. Once adolescents have a sense of these foundational skills, they will be better equipped when faced with risky situations such as the offer of a ride from someone who has been drinking, negotiating condom use, or giving and receiving consent.
Click on a skill below to learn more.