Is your kid the one who is always climbing trees, putting his or her life at risk? If so, your child may be a "high sensation-seeking" child. Parents of teenagers are well aware that most adolescents take risks, assert their independence, and begin to pull away from parents and other authority figures. But experts say that there are some teens who crave an especially great degree of stimulation and excitement-and that these teens have a much greater risk for drug and alcohol abuse.
Dr. Phillip Palmgreen, a professor in the Department of Communications at the University of Kentucky, explains that certain adolescents exhibit the personality trait known as "sensation-seeking," which is associated with "craving lots of stimulation and novelty, rapidly shifting attention from one thing to another, and becoming easily bored."
"Parents should know that sensation-seeking behavior is strongly associated with drug use," warns Dr. Palmgreen. "Teens who exhibit the common traits-needing lots of stimulation, a lot of novelty, a tendency to shift from one thing to another, get bored easily, or hang out with unconventional friends-have much higher levels of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and inhalant use."
Fortunately, sensation seeking can be channeled into healthy outlets. Dr. Palmgreen suggests that parents of sensation-seeking kids take special care to provide them positive activities that are novel and exciting, like sports, hiking, fishing, music, and dance.
Parents of sensation-seeking children can take heart, for not all of the behaviors associated with them are negative. "Sensation seekers are natural leaders, and history shows many revered presidents and captains of industry are among them," explains Dr. Palmgreen, "because leaders take risks and try new things. In order to become leaders, however, these teens need help focusing their energy on constructive activities that will help them to grow."