How to Talk to Your Child About Risky Decisions

Taking risks is part of life, but it’s important to help your child understand the difference between risks that can help her learn and grow and risks that lead to serious consequences.

On top of that, many children struggle with impulse control, so they may take unhealthy risks because they “want to” without considering any of the consequences.

Our law firm sees this often as we support parents and represent minors who are in legal trouble due to a simple lapse of judgement.

This is why it’s so important to help your child see the bigger picture and give him the tools he needs to make healthy decisions.

What should I talk to my child about?

Some of the things you should talk to your child about are likely uncomfortable topics for both of you. However, avoiding an uncomfortable situation is no reason to let your child assume he knows everything. Practice taking your own healthy risks by bringing up the topics that make you uncomfortable. Here are some things you should consider talking to your child about:

Sex: Talk about everything from protection to consent and even sexting

Social media: Start a discussion about harassment, bullying, fraud, manipulation, and hacking

Substance abuse: Have a conversation about tobacco, alcohol, illegal drugs, and even taking friend’s prescriptions or abusing their own prescriptions

Illegal activities (commonly enforced through peer pressure): Explain the seriousness of skipping school, trespassing, fighting/assault, reckless driving, shoplifting, and vandalism

How can I teach my child to make good decisions?

Whether you like it or not, your child will, at one point or another, be naturally inclined to take risks and push limits.The brain is not fully developed until well into adulthood, yet the criminal justice system treats children and teens very similarly to adults in terms of intent. Prosecutors sometimes even charge a minor as an adult. Juvenile justice can play out in many ways, but if you help your child identify impulses and find activities that allow her to express herself and experiment, she will be less likely to seek out unhealthy activities behind your back. 

Teach About Choices and Consequences

Experience is the best teacher. Children usually get in trouble because they don’t have the experience yet to make better decisions. When your child makes a mistake, treat it as a chance to sit him down and walk through exactly what happened. Help him see how his choices led to the consequences.

Be Open

Try to listen and be open to ideas that may not sound comfortable to you at first. Depending on your child, you may have to pick your battles. Maybe you allow her to ride a motorcycle or get a lip ring or paint a mural in her room. Ultimately, you decide on what you are comfortable with, but she may still choose to make those decisions without your opinion.

Support Their Healthy Decisions

When you understand that your child will take risks whether you want him to or not, it’s crucial to find ways for him to push his limits in acceptable areas. Here are a few activities you can support your child in doing:

Team sports


Rock climbing


Performing a song in a cafe

Telling a story at an open mic night

Starting a podcast


Creating a blog or themed social media account

Running for student office

Volunteering for a cause

Building something like a table or shelf

Engine repair and maintenance

The key is to find something that challenges your child where he feels free to experiment without parental oversight. However, he will still appreciate your support if he needs help getting started, practicing, or even just someone to watch him.

Give Them a Glimpse Into Your World

Let your child know exactly what you stand for and why. You could even get a little vulnerable and tell her a personal story or experience so she feels like you are speaking to her from a place of love and respect as opposed to just setting rules for things she can and can’t do. If you don’t have a personal experience to explain why you oppose certain activities, you can still give her a glimpse into your world and help her see things from your lens. Try comparing your concern for her to something she relates to, like the time the dog ran away and she was scared of what might happen.

Teach Them It’s Okay to Say No

Many times a good kid will make a bad decision because he didn’t want to disappoint a friend—whether he was being pressured or not. Maybe he didn’t want to look dumb or he wanted to be seen as a good, loyal friend. Help your child see that he can say no, and that a “friend” who pressures him into doing things he doesn’t want to—risky or not—is not actually his friend. That can be hard to understand as a child, and he may not listen at first, but keep at it.

Give Them an Out

Some parents choose to give their child an “out.” This means if she is ever in a situation where she feels like things may lead to trouble, she can text you with a code word and you can pick her up—no questions asked. This may be difficult, especially if the place where you pick her up is a place you told her not to go etc. But you can choose to focus on the smart choice she made and her trust in you—not the negative choices that got her there. She will likely be doing her own thinking about her negative choices without your help. This may or may not work, depending on your child, but it’s one way you can begin building a stronger relationship of trust.

What do I do if my child slips up?

When you talk about unhealthy risks, you should always establish clear limits. Of course, you can’t control everything your child does, but you should establish limits that you both know about. Let him know exactly what is unacceptable, and then follow through with a punishment if he crosses that line. Let him know you love him, but be firm and consistent. 

If his actions constitute a more serious crime, and he ends up arrested or charged with a criminal offense, our legal team at Brown, Bradshaw and Moffat can help you navigate his defense.

Contact our expert legal team at (801) 532-5297 to discuss your child’s case with a free, no obligation consultation.

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