Healthy Risk-Taking For Teens + Tweens Through Adventure Travel

“Be careful! Watch out! Get down!”

As a parent, you’ve probably shouted those phrases multiple times to your children as they played and explored the world around them. Protecting our children is our utmost responsibility, and it can be hard to watch your child engage in a risky activity.

But, taking risks is a part of our everyday lives, and learning to navigate and assess risk is an essential life skill for kids. Only by taking risks can kids learn to manage risk intelligently and make smart decisions. (Read that sentence again…I’ll wait.) Yes, kids need to be able to take risks, which means that we (parents) may need to get a little uncomfortable.

Risk is most often defined as the possibility of suffering a harmful event or exposure to the chance of injury or loss. “Risky play” can generally be defined as thrilling and exciting forms of play that could involve a risk of physical injury. Risky play doesn’t mean dangerous play.

Two kids jumping into water from a pontoon boat

Benefits of risky play

Children learn through play. Risky play (e.g. climbing, jumping off things, experiencing speed) incorporates safe risks relative to a child’s age, size, motor skills, and comfort level—is important to a child’s development.
Risky play helps children develop resilience, tenacity, executive functioning skills, self-confidence, persistence, independence, and risk-assessment abilities. Children who take safe risks learn that they can manage their fear, overcome it, and come out the other side.

Each time kids engage in risky play they are experimenting, pushing themselves out of their comfort zone without knowing what the exact outcome will be. Risky play allows children to learn their own capabilities and limits and find out what they feel comfortable with.

As parents, it is our job to encourage and facilitate activities that will give our kids an opportunity to test themselves, but still keep them safe. They need healthy ways to foster independence and confidence. Two of the best ways to do this are by spending time outside and travel.

Outdoor exploration

Giving kids the opportunity to play outside is a great way to embrace healthy risk-taking. Outdoors, kids climb trees, jump off rocks, and walk across wobbly fallen logs. Every action is a learning opportunity to take in information about the world around them and figure out what they’re capable of. The many variables of weather, wildlife, and unstable surroundings give kids a chance to try, fail, try again, and succeed in their endeavors.

Boy in sun hat fishing


Healthy risk-taking often includes charting new territory, so traveling and experiencing new places, activities, and environments is a great way to meet those needs. Exposing your kids to landscapes that look nothing like your surroundings, food that’s completely different, and languages and cultures that vary from your own are all great ways to get out of your comfort zone. However, don’t underestimate the power of exploring new places and trying new things nearby, as well. You don’t have to venture to foreign lands to discover new adventures. When choosing a destination consider environments that lend themselves well to taking the next step. In Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Florida those new to snorkeling and diving can start off getting comfortable with the feeling of underwater exploration in the calm waters of Norriego Point and as they grow in confidence and age they can take the next step exploring artificial reefs from the beach and even heading a bit further offshore with a dive master to scuba.

Adventuring with teens and tweens

As kids get older, they’ll begin to try new things on their own, as well as resist help, which is completely normal development. Tweens and teens will start seeking out riskier actions, as they feel a strong need to prove themselves capable and independent.

Teenagers are looking for an escape and a boundary-pushing experience. Both of those needs can be met in the outdoors and through travel. Next time you are thinking about outdoor activities for teens, consider adding things that provide a bit of a challenge or thrill for them and can help them push boundaries in a healthy way. Examples include surfing, skiing, sailing, ziplining, snowmobiling, jet-skiing, kiteboarding, or scuba diving. For your next vacation, plan a trip to a place that offers these types of adventurous outdoor activities.

Adventure with them

Risky behavior can seem scary and overwhelming to parents, but it’s a normal part of growing up. Kids will push the limits and take risks, whether parents are involved or not. The more you can be there to encourage healthy risk-taking and good decisions, the stronger their foundation will be.

It won’t always be easy (nothing with parenting ever is). You’ll need to take a step back and let them lead. It will force you to trust them in new ways. But, it’ll also give you both experiences and adventures beyond your wildest dreams!

This post was written by Sara McCarty, founder of Run Wild My Child, in partnership with Destin-Fort Walton Beach.


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