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Reckless behavior or healthy experimentation?

From M, spring 2004

It's two hours past your 15-year-old's curfew when you finally hear the front door open. By the look on his face, you immediately realize he's been drinking and your parental fear kicks in--you're sure he's going down the wrong path. But a University of Minnesota researcher wants you to relax and realize that his drinking could just be healthy experimentation.

"Our kids' identity comes from trying out different things," says Jodi Dworkin, a College of Human Ecology family development specialist who is currently studying adolescent and young adult experimentation. "By engaging in new behaviors, youth learn their limits, practice decision making, and start building their own foundation of values and beliefs."

Dworkin also wants parents to understand the boundary between risky behavior and healthy experimentation. Be aware, she cautions, of major changes in your children's circle of friends, in their academic performance, or in their moods or their health. But on the whole, parents should ask questions, trust the answers, and listen carefully without jumping in with lectures.

Dworkin offers some additional tips for parents:

"We want children to make decisions and learn to stand on their own feet," says Dworkin. "We should be open to the person each child is becoming." And that includes understanding both the risks and opportunities of experimentation.

For more resources on parenting, visit the U of M's Children, Youth and Family Consortium at

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