I remember as a teenager doing reckless, dangerous things all the time. From cliff diving into the ocean without knowing what was underneath the surface, to skating on top of a tray we ‘borrowed’ from McDonald’s while holding onto the back of a car through a parking lot — it’s a wonder how I survived.
Dr. Dan Siegel is a clinical professor of psychology at UCLA and has written a lot about how the brain works through the developmental stages of adolescence. One key point he makes is the increased reward drive that’s unique in the adolescent brain.
He says, “During adolescence there is an increase in activity of the neural circuits utilizing dopamine, a neurotransmitter central in creating our drive for reward…this enhanced dopamine release causes adolescents to gravitate toward thrilling experiences and exhilarating sensations.”
The implication is that teens are more impulsive and prone to risky behaviors— anything that will satisfy their brain’s craving for dopamine.
There’s a reason teens do stupid things — not because they’re dumb. They are like cars that have a huge gas pedal and no brake yet.
Teens naturally pull away from adults and instead invest most of their time and energy on peer relationships. That’s normal and expected. With their craving for dopamine from thrilling activities, teens will often turn to risky behaviors with substances to satisfy their craving — not to mention impress their peers. It’s not drugs or alcohol they crave, it’s the feeling they get from doing something risky.
But perhaps there’s an opportunity to work with our kids and their natural, healthy, thirst for dopamine. I know it might sound crazy, especially to adults who are cautious and regret the mistakes they made during their teenage years, but what could it look like to provide them opportunities to be thrill seekers?
If you’re a parent, then here are a few ideas you can create adventures for and with your kid(s) to get high naturally:
- Mountain biking: gear up and find a trail.
- Surf with them — at night.
- Create a Tik Tok video with them and make yourself look like a fool.
- Rent a jet ski for a couple of hours.
- Buy a block of ice, bring a towel, and find a grassy hill. It’s called Ice Blocking, and it’s a blast.
- Build a ramp with them following a YouTube tutorial and supplies from Home Depot.
If you’re an educator, here are a couple of ideas you can implement with your students:
- Assign a student each week to make a five-minute presentation (or video) of their latest interest- something they enjoy doing that makes them come alive.
- Give extra credit if a student shares a video of them on an adventure.
Sure, those activities have inherent risks, but so does driving to the store. Assume calculated risks, knowing their abilities and unique wiring, and thoughtfully create opportunities for them to get the high they’re looking for. Ask them what they’d like to do, and be a cool parent who says yes and funds the adventure. Hey, if they break a bone or get hurt, at least you’d be there to help.
If you end up creating a ‘risky adventure’ with your kids, share it on social media and tag it #naturalhigh.