18 December 2017

Behavioural scientist Margot Peeters on high-risk behaviour

Youngsters and fireworks: “Boys in particular take more risks.”

Jongere houdt vuurwerk in zijn hand en steekt het aan

New Year's Eve is coming and the discussion on fireworks starts again. Nuisance, damage and accidents are the topics of conversation. Why do youngsters show such high-risk behaviour while setting off fireworks, and is a ban or age restriction meaningful?

Behavioural scientist Margot Peeters researches high-risk behaviour among youngsters. “A ban could be influential, but would not solve the problem all at once.”

You would think that the danger of playing with fireworks is clear, but we still see youngsters take high risks every year. Why are they actually doing that?
“It's often boys who do this. Over 75 % of the victims of last New Year's Night were male. That can very well have something to do with status in a group, boys are far more oriented on mutual competition from an evolutionary perspective. In order to gain status in a group, they often act tough in the presence of other youngsters. Girls are less active in that field, they are more focused on relationships.”

High-risk behaviour is a way to show you're one of them.
Portretfoto van Margot Peeters
Margot Peeters
Behavioural scientist

And this sometimes goes wrong among boys?
“High-risk behaviour is a way to show you're one of them. And not everyone can asses these risks as well as others. Particularly in groups, the urge to achieve increases and younger boys take many risks, including in setting off fireworks.”

Would an age limit or a full ban on setting off fireworks personally be a good solution to solve the damage this high-risk behaviour causes?
“With substances like cannabis and alcohol, you see that they are still being used. But it does help when you make such a product less accessible, especially for younger adolescents. The general rule is: the harder is it is to get, the lower the use. If youngsters can't get any fireworks on a street corner, it quickly becomes a lot more difficult for a part of this group. However, a core group will continue to do this, for instance because they can get it from their parents or older friends.”

So a ban won't prevent victims?
“A ban could very well have an effect, but we should also consider whether or not we are going to take away all kinds of things from our youngsters while we as adults don't alter our behaviour. We shouldn't forget that two-thirds of the victims are adults. Apparently, it's not just youngsters who can't properly assess these risks."