Risk-taking

Risk-taking behaviours and normal characteristics of boys and men that can have positive or negative effects on health, growth, and development.

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What is risk-taking behaviour?

Risk-taking behaviour is when you do things that will have an outcome that you can’t predict. Risk-taking can be positive (if it has the potential to be beneficial) or negative (if it has the potential to be harmful).

Positive risk-taking is done for exploration and personal growth, in a socially acceptable way, often by people who want social rewards (e.g. recognition, appreciation, increased self-esteem or a sense of accomplishment).

Negative risk-taking is done by people who want rewards that are valued by themselves, peer groups or subcultures (but not society more generally), and who are not put off by the possibility of severe, undesirable consequences (harming themselves or others, fines or imprisonment, destruction of property).

How common is risk-taking behaviour?

The prevalence of risk-taking, and the types of risk-taking behaviours, are different between different cultures, but populations from all over the world show greater risk-taking by males than females.

Risk-taking changes with age, because of age-related changes in brain development. Risk-taking behaviour begins to increase around puberty and rises during adolescence, before declining when people enter their mid-20s.

Health effects of risk-taking behaviour

The health consequences of risk-taking behaviours are serious. The use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs is by far the greatest contributor to poor health of Australian males until middle age (around 50 years old).

For young men and boys, the health costs of risk-taking behaviour often have immediate effects, from things like self-harm, road accidents, poisoning, overdose, or work-related accidents. Risk-taking at young ages also has long-term effects on health. Risk-taking might cause disability, or chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease or obesity, or even infertility.

Long-term effects on health might start from risk-taking in adolescence but often the risk-taking behaviours develop into life-long habits (like smoking, lack of exercise, poor diet, too much sun exposure) that have their greatest health impact on adulthood. Things like an unhealthy diet might not seem like much of a risk, but over years they have severe consequences for your health.

What to do about risk-taking behaviour

Taking risks is part of growing up and part of being male. Avoiding negative risk-taking behaviours is the best way to avoid the potential harm they can cause.

Try to think about the potential negative outcomes of things you do that make you feel good. For example, driving fast is exciting, but an accident could cost you a lot of money or your life. Just because things have turned out alright in the past doesn’t mean they will next time.

You might feel peer-group pressure to participate in risk-taking behaviours. It’s OK to say no to risky activities or to express your concerns about other people’s dangerous behaviour. Everyone’s acceptance of risk is different. The chances are that if something feels too risky for you, someone else probably feels the same way.

It’s important not to let risk-taking behaviour turn into bad habits. You might not be aware of small risks that you take every day, that can have bad effects that build up over time. For example, you can eat unhealthy food for years before it starts to have noticeable effects on your health; by the time you notice, it might be too late to fix the damage.

Not seeing a doctor when something is wrong with your health is also a form of risk-taking. It might be unlikely, but there could be something seriously wrong. You risk the problem getting worse if you don’t seek help.

Risk-taking

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