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Defining adolescent risk-taking behavior appears to be straightforward enough: It is when an adolescent engages in a behavior that carries a high probability of a negative outcome. Driving while intoxicated, having unprotected sexual intercourse, and experimenting with illicit drugs are some of the most common examples given when discussions of adolescent risk taking ensue. Given the potential long-term (or even permanent) negative consequences at stake, the focus on behaviors that could or will affect the young person’s health and/or well-being is understandable. Appreciating fully the exact nature and features of adolescent risk taking, however, is more complicated than it may seem.

Whereas any behavior entails risks, not all risky behaviors are alike. For example, risk taking can and often does encompass behavior for which the ...

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