Types and Factors of Risky Behaviors

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Risky behaviors are those that potentially expose people to harm, or significant risk of harm which will prevent them reaching their potential. It is important that teenagers are knowledgeable about so that they understand the consequences of their decisions, understand that their actions do not only affect them but other people too, as well to help the, consider lower-risk alternatives. This will help them make better future decisions and make them knowledgeable of the fact that their actions not only affect them but the society/community around them.

Risky behaviors include: unhealthy dietary behaviors, risky sexual behavior, alcohol or drug use, and inadequate physical activity.

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1) Unhealthy Dietary Behavior

Risk behavior that leads to unhealthy diets which do not include the right amounts of fruit and vegetables, dairy products, carbohydrates, protein and fat. It may also be the consumption of sugar-based drinks such as sodas/fizzy-drinks and not eating breakfast. For example, ‘binging’ and starving, the over-consumption of refined processed food such as eating excessive amounts of cheese and tinned food. Starvation can be one ‘skips’ breakfast when the body has been without food for 12 to 18 hours and then over-eating (binging) causing your body to store as much food as it cannot burn it all for energy.

2) Risky Sexual Behavior

This is risky behavior that may lead to unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Examples may include engaging in sexual activity (intercourse) below that age of 13, unprotected sex, having multiple partners, not being tested for HIV and drinking or using alcohol during or before sexual intercourse.

3) Alcohol or Drug Use

This risky behavior includes alcohol consumption under the required age (18 years). For example, drinking on a regular basis, the over-consumption of alcohol (binge drinking experience), use of drugs such as cocaine, inhalants, heroin, steroids or prescription drugs.

4) Inadequate Physical Activity

This is behavior that leads to the lack of physical health. This can lead to anxiety and depression, obesity, high blood pressure, stroke, certain cancers (colon, breast and uterine cancers), metabolic syndrome, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and heart diseases. Examples may include; lack of cardio activity, spending time playing video games, watching TV or being on the computer for more than 3 hours per day, not attending or participating in physical education classes.

Factors that lead to risk behaviors may be genetic (hereditary), psychological (one’s personality characteristics may place them at a higher risk of developing a risk behavior), socio-cultural influences (these factors refer to external, environmental occurrences that impact how someone perceives themselves (TV, social media and printed media). They may however also be situations involving peers, friends and family, sport coaches and other figures of authority and influence), protective factors (resilience which may reduce the likelihood of developing a risk behavior) and impact from social media. This plays an ever-increasing role in teenagers’ lives. For others it is an important tool for research, and for others and unsafe place. Understanding this factor can help carers and educators take appropriate precautions to ensure safe use.

1) Unhealthy Dietary Behaviors

One may inherit (genetic factor) an eating disorder from their biological parent. Unhealthy dietary behaviors may include (psychological factors); low self-esteem, perfectionism (obsessive-compulsiveness), negative emotions, stress, depression, over-evaluating body in defining self-worth, excessive worrying, anxiety, fear, doubt and pessimism, avoidance of social interaction, trauma. Unhealthy dietary behaviors are also because of socio-cultural factors which may include; internalizing western-beauty ideas of thinness and muscularity, societal pressure to achieve and succeed, involvement in a sport or industry with an emphasis on thin body shape and size such as gymnastics, modeling and ballet. Protective factors that affect unhealthy dietary behaviors may be individual, family or socio-cultural protective factors. This includes; high self-esteem, positive body image, emotional well-being, school achievement, assertiveness and possessing good social and problem-solving skills [individual], eating regular meals with family, belonging to a family that does not overemphasize weight and physical attractiveness [family], belonging to a less westernized structure, involvement in sport or industry where there is no emphasis on physical attractiveness, friendships, peers or relationships where physical appearance is not of high concern [socio-cultural]. Another factor that influences unhealthy dietary behavior is the impact of social media. For example; social media (images of thin, attractive men and women widely available online which expose viewers to unrealistic images of beauty that have detrimental effects on the body image), pro-eating disorders (websites that positively portray eating disorders and focus on themes of perfection).

2) Risky Sexual Behavior

There are many factors that lead to risky/unsafe sexual behavior such as ‘a violent past’ (abuse), stigmatization, alcohol consumption and sexting. High-risk sexual behaviors may include the failure to use condoms or other birth control methods, having many lifetime sex partners, non-discriminating sex partner recruiting patterns, engagement in sexual activity after heavy alcohol consumption and participating in concurrent sex partnerships. This is a primal risk factor for sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy. People whom have experienced violence multiple forms of violence from witnessing neighborhood crimes to being abused themselves are more likely to be engaged in risky sexual behaviors such as unprotected sex and having multiple sexual partners. Homosexual people whom feel undesirable are more likely to be involved in risky sexual behavior as they are subjected to stigmatization, avoidance and outright rejection which may lead to anxiety, depression and substance abuse. Because of this they may go without the safe-sex discussion and have unprotected sex. Alcohol can induce one to have unprotected sex because the more a person drinks, the stronger their desire to engage in unsafe sexual activities. Alcohol influences decision making, the negative impacts of alcohol increases with its consumption. Sexting (sending someone sexually explicit photographs or messages via a mobile phone) plays a somewhat detrimental role in risky behavior. A study went on to show the increasing number of teenagers sexting as 40% of girls aged between 14 and 15 did not have a problem with sending a topless photograph and about 17% did not see anything inappropriate with posing for others fully naked.

3) Alcohol or Drug Use

There are various factors that influence risky alcohol and drug use among teens, these may include; peer pressure, stigmatization, family, genetics, thrill-seeking tendencies, stress, low self-worth and the desire for performance enhancement. Many teens use drugs for the first time to avoid being stigmatized by their friends or to impress others. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that peers have a large influence on drug abusing behavior. “According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, scientists recognize that genetic predispositions to drug abuse exist…”, this may have to do with a brain chemical called dopamine and its gene-controlled relationship with it. While one may try a hallucinogen (drug that causes hallucinations e.g. LSD) for the once, a teen genetically predisposed to have addiction problems may feel the desire to use it again and again as they naturally derive more levels of dopamine. Growing in a family that emphasizes drug and alcohol use and reach for a substance to cure every pain or ailment may cause an adolescent to think that is acceptable. This unhealthy family influence may be a factor in a teen’s initial drug experimentation. Teens get values from their parents and adult influences and often mimic what they see. Teens with a tendency and adrenaline rushes are at a high risk of substance because of the feeling achieved from early substance use. While one may enjoy the rush of dopamine, some teens get a feeling which makes them want to continue using it despite the negative consequences. Some teens may reach out to substance to gain stress relief. This can be the root of teen substance abuse with underlying mental conditions such generalized or social anxiety disorders. Child abuse can create stress levels in teens that may trigger them to abuse drugs. A teenager with low self-worth is likely to engage in substance abuse. Some teens may start using drugs as a misguided attempt to improve sport or academic performance. This creates a sense of immortality within them making them unaware of the negative impacts.

4) Inadequate Physical Activity

There are various factors that affect the inadequate risky behavior of inadequate physical activity. These factors are generally personal (psychological, behavioral and physiological) and environmental (personal, social and communal environment) factors. Although technological advancement has made life easier, it has also increasingly made teens lazier (less active). The three main hindrances to adequate physical activity have been identified as time, energy and motivation, or the lack of. Insufficient time and the inconvenience of exercise, fear of being injured, lack of self-motivation and encouragement, low self-efficacy, costs, inadequate facilities or lack of amongst many other are some of the personal factors that affect inadequate physical activity among teens. The environment in which we live has great influence on our physical activity. Factors include inaccessibility to walking paths, cycling trails, and recreational facilities. Factors such crime, pollution and public transport are also contributory. Social environmental factors include support and motivation from friends and family and community spirit or lack of it.

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