Crash at Canada Olympic Park a chance to talk to teens about risky behaviour

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Crash at Canada Olympic Park a chance to talk to teens about risky behaviour
WATCH ABOVE: Calgary Counselling Centre’s associate director Kim Busch says teens often engage in risky behaviour not because they’re ‘stupid’ but because a certain part of their brain isn’t fully developed. She provides tips for parents on how to talk to kids in a way that could help prevent dangerous activities – Feb 8, 2016

Public reaction to an after-hours crash on the bobsled track at Calgary’s Canada Olympic Park has included thousands of messages of condolences. Family and teachers have publicly remembered the twin brothers who died as straight-A students and community volunteers, and many Global News readers have sent well-wishes for the six teens recovering from injuries ranging from bruises to the loss of an eye.

READ MORE: Canada Olympic Park incident – what we know about the injured teens

But among the thousands of comments, some also suggest there’s a lesson to be learned: officials have confirmed the teens broke into the park at around 1:30 a.m. Saturday, they used a personal toboggan to try to go down the track, and they hit a gate partway down. The circumstances that led to the horrific crash are still being investigated by Calgary police as well as WinSport officials, and few details are being released at this time.

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Caldwell family photo. Handout

“Breaking into a facility at 1:30 a.m. is NOT a ‘stupid mistake’. It is ILLEGAL!” Facebook user Ann Billingsley wrote on the Global Facebook page. “This wasn’t an accident in the daytime while they used the facility properly….Their grades do not make it a ‘mistake’. Volunteering does not make this a ‘mistake’.

“Hopefully the survivors of the incident will be properly punished and will learn a valuable lesson about abiding the law.”

Watch below: Global’s ongoing coverage of the sledding incident at Calgary Olympic Park

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READ MORE: Twins who died in Calgary bobsled track crash remembered as top students, volunteers

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Facebook user Richard Campbell suggested there may be some people who’ve never taken risks that could result in “bad injury or worse” but he’s found some comments offensive.

“What offends me is labelling someone stupid for making a bad choice and that some people feel the need to point out that it was a bad (or insert other adjective) decision,” Campbell wrote. “That is so obvious. These eight young people are not/were not stupid.”

READ MORE: Grief counselors visit schools of Evan and Jordan Caldwell after their bobsled track death

A professor at Mount Royal University’s child studies and social work department said it’s “incredibly normal” for teens to take these kinds of risks.

“Any adult watching this will think, ‘oh gosh, I think about the things I did and boy, was I lucky,’” Peter Choate said.

“It’s not that they did something unusual; it’s very typical teenage behaviour.”

Caleb Hettinga has been identified as one of the teens injured in a tobogganing run after hours at Calgary Olympic Park. Obtained by Global News

Risky behaviour is considered a rite of passage for teens, and a study from a Temple University professor suggests it’s hard-wired because the part of their brain responsible for decision-making hasn’t matured.

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Calgary Counselling Centre’s associate director Kim Busch said it’s because teens’ frontal lobes aren’t as well-developed as the brain of someone between 20 and 25 years of age.

“A lot is physiological – it’s not that they’re stupid or crazy,” Busch said. “They just haven’t developed that part yet. … Their brains are overrun with hormones and emotions–they’re not thinking super clearly at the best of times.”

In addition to that, Busch said teens have a tendency to feel invincible, with an attitude that bad things won’t happen to them. She said they also don’t see the end consequence to actions.

“There’s a lot of spontaneity–which is fun–but they don’t think things through; they often just act. And if you get a group of teens, they can influence each other to do things they might not normally do if it was just them by themselves.”

Mark Lyons has been identified as one of the teens injured at a Calgary Olympic Park tobogganing incident Feb. 6, 2016. Obtained by Global News

She said another factor is that what one person considers dangerous may not seem dangerous to someone else, and that teens’ perception of danger is often inaccurate.

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How parents can talk to teens about risky behaviour

Busch suggests lecturing is the wrong way to go, since teens will just shut down in response.

“It’s not about bad kids. Really great kids can make decisions that aren’t very wise for lots of reasons. Maybe they don’t understand the whole picture, maybe they were never exposed to it before – there’s so many reasons. The reality is they’re out there living and they come across stuff, and they just don’t have that critical thinking component that doesn’t develop until they’re older.”

Speaking with teens and asking them what they think about events such as the crash on the bobsled track is the best way parents can approach the topic of risky behaviour, Busch said.

“So if something happens in the news or to a friend–you can use it as a rehearsal. Ask them: ‘what do you think could’ve happened differently? What do you think they forgot or didn’t think about? What do you think they were thinking about before?’ You can run through scenarios.”

The registered psychologist said another tactic is to ask teens to stop and think before they act.

“Tell them to stop – take a breath – ask themselves, ‘what’s the real situation here?’” Busch suggested. “You get out of that spontaneous excitement phase and into a more logical phase, which they have to actually practice and be consciously doing. It doesn’t come naturally at that age.”

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Busch said parents’ inclination can be to lock teens up, but that’s not the best solution.

“Parents need to provide structure, and keep teens safe while still allowing them to explore and make decisions to learn that decision-making capability.”

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