Children are like play dough. Their minds and spirits are constantly molded by people, experiences and their environment. They can become stiff from being left out in the cold and they become soft and moldable when shown love. How children are raised is one of the biggest determining factors of whether they will be involved in risky behaviors.
The curiosity in children makes them risk takers at heart, but this natural tendency can be viewed as pretty benign. Playing a prank on their siblings, scribbling crayons on the walls and testing their mom’s patience is par for the course for most young children. When children become teenagers, they often take bigger risks such as breaking curfew, lying to their parents or even trying to cut corners in school. Risky behavior allows children and teenagers to test the limits.
Not all risky behaviors are created equal. Some are harmful and carry serious repercussions. Part of becoming an adult is distinguishing between healthy risk taking, like getting married or buying a house, and not-so-healthy risk taking, like experimenting with drugs. What makes certain children partake in unhealthy risky behaviors when they grow up?
A study performed at the University of Minnesota revealed that children who were raised in unstable environments with lots of change were more prone to partake in riskier behaviors. Children who had to change schools and residences, and whose parents went through divorce or changed partners became more likely to become involved in harmful risky behaviors.
Being raised in a stable environment is imperative for children to seek comfort, form bonding relationships and develop trust. When a child has to switch schools, it creates abandonment issues, broken friendships and new adjustments. The same thing happens when a child moves into a new neighborhood or goes through a traumatic event such as a divorce. Stability is a major factor that contributes to children’s well-being as they progress into adolescence and further into adulthood.
Parental behavior gets repeated
Parental behaviors also greatly influence whether a child will develop risky behaviors. Studies have shown that children who are around parents who drink, smoke and use drugs are more likely to repeat these harmful patterns themselves. The same holds true with parental abuse and violence. Children who witness or are victims of abuse are at high risk for becoming abusers when they are older. The cycle is perpetuated and, more often than not, it is not broken.
“Kandel and associates found that 82 percent of drinking families raise youth that also drink, and that 72 percent of families who abstain raise youth who also abstain,” states an overview of the research findings published in Pediatrics. “Annis found that a same-sex, same-use pattern seems to exist. Mothers and daughters have similar patterns of substance abuse (mostly tranquilizers and painkillers), and fathers and sons share their choice in drugs (usually alcohol and cigarettes).”
Coping with stress
Toxic stress is another component that can adversely mold children into taking risky behaviors. Witnessing parental arguments, a bad tone in a mother’s voice, unwarranted and dangerous punishment can be detrimental to children and increase their likelihood for chronic emotional trauma and risk-taking behaviors.
Some stressors — such as financial obligations, working to make ends meet, health concerns or natural disasters — cannot be avoided. How we handle these things can make all the difference. Nurturing children, bringing positivity into their lives when times get tough and providing a safe, stable environment can prevent long-term toxic effects on them.
Remember, children are like play dough. They can absorb all of the ugliness and soak it up. Saying nasty things about an estranged parent or someone related to a child can create a lot of mental tension for that child. Keeping a positive environment for children is important and can greatly affect the rest of their lives.
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About the author
Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a senior staff writer at the Sovereign Health Group and enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of medicine. She is a physician and author who also teaches, practices medicine in the urgent care setting and contributes to medicine board education. She is also an outdoor and dog enthusiast. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at email@example.com.
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