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Risky behaviour in teenagers

The path to becoming an adult is an exciting and busy time for teenagers. It is full of new experiences and challenges as teenagers begin to find out who they are and become more independent.  It can also be quite a testing time for parents. Many will have to cope with the mood swings and arguments that come with raising a teenager.  Once you’ve got through to your teen, it’s well worth it. Until then, if you are having a tough time coping, that’s totally normal. Here you can find all the guidance and support you need to get through this tricky but rewarding period.

Teenage risky behaviour

Read time: 4 minutes

Remember that as they become more independent teenagers are exposed to more risks. Like alcohol or pressure from peers to act in ways that seem out of character. These risks can make them more vulnerable to other risks. Exploitation or violence, for example.

At the same time teenagers have lots of expectations on them - from home, from school and from their peers. We expect them to act like young adults, yet they are often treated like children. So if you're concerned your teen does have a problem or is in trouble, it's important that you seek help. Don't just wait for them to grow out of it - you could be leaving them vulnerable.

Teenagers are known for trying to push limits and test rules. Sometimes this will result in risky behaviours and activities. For a parent, it can be quite scary to know that your teen is putting themselves at risk. But try to stay calm and understand why they are behaving this way. You can then help your teen find other ways to get the feeling their behaviour gives them.

I'm worried about my teen's social media use

Social media is a useful tool for keeping people connected. But it can also be a risky place for teenagers. You might be worried that your teen is using social media to mix with dangerous people. Teenagers can be even more vulnerable if they do not know the risks.

Sexting is a particular risky activity. Many teens today build relationships online via apps or websites. There's nothing wrong with getting to know others in a safe space. But your teen shouldn't feel pressured into sending nude pictures. Should anything they send end up in the wrong hands, it leaves them open to cyberbullying.

My teenager is skipping school

Truancy is another worrying habit. Spending the day in unknown places and with unknown people can put your teen at risk. It also puts you in a difficult position as the person legally to blame if they are not in school.

You may wonder what your teen is doing when they skip school. Truancy can be a sign that your teen is doing other risky activities during the day. Or it could simply be a sign that your teen is having a hard time at school. This could be with work, relationships, bullying, or something else. Either way, speaking to your teen about why they are skipping school is vital.

I'm worried my teen has joined a gang

Finding out your teenager has joined a gang causes endless stress for a parent. As well as your teen's wellbeing, you will likely be worried about them getting in trouble with the law.

It can help to understand why teens get involved with gangs. Common reasons include:

  • Wanting to gain popularity or 'respect'
  • To escape bad situations at home or school
  • To feel a sense of belonging
  • Peer pressure

Criminal gangs have also been known to groom vulnerable teens and use them to carry drugs. County Lines is when gangs recruit local teenagers to move drugs. The gang cut the teenager off from family and friends, so they feel trapped and alone.

This is a rare but very serious situation. Worried that your teen is being exploited by a criminal gang? Ask their school to make a referral to Surrey Children's Services Early Help Hub. Or, call Surrey Police on 101.

Top tips for how to deal with your teen's risky behaviour

Read time: 3 minutes

Risky behaviour by a teen can be scary for a parent but there are always things you can do to help your teen. See our top tips below for your specific situation.

Preventing risky behaviour on social media

  • Encourage caution. Remind your teen to be careful about what they share online. It could wind up in the wrong hands and cannot be deleted once it is on the web.
  • Check privacy settings. Read through the privacy settings on the social media sites that your teen uses. Agree suitable settings for your teen's account.
  • Practice saying no. Help your teen prepare answers to unwanted messages. Such as those encouraging sexting or asking for photos.
  • Ask questions. Before your teen posts online, encourage them to ask themselves What is the purpose of this post? Could this post offend anyone who sees it?

Dealing with truancy

  • Communicate. Explain to your teen the seriousness of the situation. But also listen to their reasons why they have been skipping school. It might not be as bad as you think
  • Offer help. If your teen has problems at school, work together to tackle them. Make sure your teen has the help and support they need to manage their issues.
  • Work with the school. Remember, this isn't just your problem. Raise your concerns with the school. They can help put plans in place to prevent this behaviour in future.
  • Support them. Often, the more support and praise a teen gets at home, the more likely they are to engage at school.

If your teen is involved with a gang

  • Listen. Don't start the conversation angry. Speak to your teenager and try to understand why they are involved with a gang and how they think it helps them.
  • Be a role model. Your teen might have joined a gang because of a lack of clear rules at home, or because they feel ignored. Make sure you set a good example and give them your time and attention.
  • Talk. If your teen is not opening up, speak to their school. Their teachers might be able to tell you about your teen's behaviour away from home and offer support.
  • Reach out. If you are worried, reach out to family and friends. Don't worry about being judged for your teen's behaviour. The fact that you're getting help shows you're not a bad parent!

Don't suffer in silence

You are right to be concerned about your teen's wellbeing. But don't forget about your own! When your teen is taking part in risky behaviours it can be very stressful. It can also be easy to keep your feelings to yourself when you should be sharing.

You may be worried what people think of you as a parent if you speak about your teen's behaviour. Or you might be worried about getting your teen into trouble - particularly if they have broken the law. But don't suffer in silence. Specialist helplines and counsellors are on hand to provide private, fair support. And remember to look after yourself.

Information from external websites

Safe Space Health UK is a website for young people aged 11 - 14 in Surrey. It offers helpful information about emotional health, lifestyle choices, relationships, keeping safe, growing up and being okay with being different.


Gangs

Childline has information for your teen on gangs.


Family Lives have information if you think your child may be in a gang


NSPCC have an informative page on gangs and criminal exploitation


Relate have information on what to do if your teen has joined a gang


The Mix has a number of articles for your teen about gangs


Risky behaviour online

Action for children offers 5 top tips for keeping children safe online


Childline has a useful section for your teen on online safety - including sexting, grooming and inappropriate content.


Internet Matters give the minimum ages for popular social media platforms


NSPCC have an excellent section on internet safety. It includes talking about online safety, sexting and inappropriate online content. The also have a section to help you and your teen recognise grooming.


Relate share how one family dealt with their teen truanting.


The Mix has a number of articles for your teen on sexting and staying safe online


Thinkuknow has information for your teen on sex, relationships and the internet.

School refusal and truancy

Action for Children have a short section on skipping school and truancy.


Family Lives have a useful article on what to do if your child is truanting


Relate have various helpful sections. In particular on Relate's page on school phobia and Relate's page on truancy.


Young Minds have a helpful section for parents on school refusal and school anxiety.

Struggling and need to talk?

For you

Action for Children offer 1:1 chat with a parenting coach (Mon - Fri). If they are closed you can leave a message and a parenting coach will get back to you within 3 working days.


Family Lives has a free, confidential helpline, offering emotional support, information, advice and guidance on any aspect of parenting and family life. Call the Family Lives helpline on 0808 800 2222 (Monday to Friday from 9am to 9pm and on weekends from 10am to 3pm).


NSPCC has a free, confidential helpline for parents looking for advice. Call 0808 800 5000 (Monday to Friday 8am – 10pm or 9am – 6pm at the weekends).


Parent Info provides support and advice to parents, with contributions from the leading experts and organisations in matters related to young people and families in a digital world.


The Surrey Children and Family Health Advice Line is available from 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (excluding Bank Holidays). They can provide support on all aspects of child health, development and parenting for families with children from birth to 19 years old. Call the Surrey-wide 0-19 Advice Line on 01883 340 922


Young Minds has a free parents helpline. For detailed advice, emotional support and signposting about your teen call 0808 802 5544 (9:30am to 4pm, Monday to Friday)

For your teen

Child and Family Health Surrey offer a text service called ChatHealth, a confidential school nurse messaging service for young people aged 11-19. Young people can contact their school nurse in confidence by text. The Chat Health text number is: 07507 329 951 (Mon - Fri 9am - 5pm). All of the issues discussed are confidential unless a child's safety, or that of others, is at risk. The school nurses will always encourage young people to discuss issues with their parents or guardians.


Childline have a free and confidential helpline for children. You could encourage your child to call 0800 1111 if they need to speak to someone - open 7 days a week from 7.30am - 3.30am. Childline also have a 1-2-1 counsellor chat for children who don't want to speak on the phone.


The Mix has a free helpline for under 25s who need help but don't know where to turn. Your teen can call 0808 808 4994 (7 days a week from 3pm to 12am. You can also web chat 7 days a week from 3pm to 12am, however chats may not be connected after 11:15pm).

Useful videos on risky teenage behaviour

This video from the Homeless Foundation explains what's happening in the teenage brain and why they may behave in risky ways.

View on YouTube

Childline has a video for your teen on sending nudes They also have one on online grooming.


Family Lives has an informative video on gangs. They also have videos on truancy on sexting and on teens watching porn.


Internet Matters have a handy video on internet safety for teens


Young Minds has an informative video on school refusal


The Families Under Pressure video collection offers a great series of short top tips videos on managing behaviour and help with negative emotions. Perfect for when your family leave you feeling frazzled!

Helpful tools and apps

Action for Children has a quick guide to spotting if your teen has low self-esteem


Internet Matters have a useful guide for parents of teens on internet safety


Kooth is a free online counselling and emotional well-being platform for children and young people aged 11 - 18. Accessible through mobile, tablet and desktop 365 days a year on Monday to Friday from 12pm–10pm and Saturday and Sunday from 6pm until 10pm.
Your teen can sign up here


You might want to suggest your teen tries the MeeTwo App. it is free, and allows peer to peer support for 11-25 year olds in a forum monitored by trained adults. If your 12 year old posts a question, only other 12 year olds will see the post and be able to respond. Adults monitor questions and answers and hand the question to a counsellor if they feel the child needs more than peer support.

Download Meetwo from Google Play

Download MeeTwo from App Store


The Marie Collins Foundation has produced a leaflet you can download on sexual abuse online - how can I help my child?


The NSPCC has a great guide on positive parenting with a helpful section on setting boundaries.


Surrey's Family Learning and Adult Learning teams have developed a family wellbeing resource, with lots of tips on looking after yourself and your family during these challenging times.


Zipit is an app designed to help teens take back control when someone's trying to get them to send nudes.

Online parenting guides

Surrey residents get free access to three online guides that include top tips from childcare, education and NHS health experts.

How to register

Registration is quick and easy. Go to the OurPlace website and use the access code 'ACORN' to get your free guides.

Access to the guides is unlimited with no expiry date, so you can return as and when you need and want to. Why not watch the Child and Family Health video to find out more.

Community support, courses and local help

Choose the area you live in for local services. Please note that due to coronavirus (Covid-19) very few community services are currently running.

BETA: We would really appreciate your feedback to help us improve and grow the service. We're listening!

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Date published: 22 Apr 2021