At Risk Teen?

At Risk Teen? Most parents don't think their teen could be at risk for destructive or delinquent behavior, but at risk youth are everywhere. There are many at risk teen risk factors. Learn the signs so you can intervene in time to help at risk teens.

Parents often worry that their teens may be at risk for dangerous behaviors, but they usually hope that it won't happen to their teen. There are many risky or destructive behaviors that teens can engage in that make them at risk teens, including:

  • Defiance toward authorities
  • Reckless driving
  • Using drugs or alcohol
  • Premarital sex, especially unprotected teen sex or sex with multiple partners
  • Violent teen behavior
  • Carrying weapons
  • Criminal activity
  • Gang involvement
  • Dropping out of school

In fact, studies have found that teens who are at risk for one type of delinquent behavior are often at risk teens in others areas as well. Though it's concerning that teens often engage in multiple delinquent behaviors, this also means that getting help for an at risk teen involved in one risky behavior may help prevent others.

There are several risk factors that may mean one is an at risk teen. Though not all teens with these risk factors will get involved in negative behaviors, and some teens without these risk factors will still engage in risky behavior, teens with these risk factors may need early at risk teen intervention:

  • Mental illnesses, including teen depression or anxiety
  • Trouble with school or learning disabilities
  • Being the victim of violence or abuse
  • Being exposed to violence in their home or neighborhood, possibly including media violence
  • Having a history of aggression or trouble controlling their temper
  • Impulsive behavior or a lack of self control
  • Emotional stress, such as parents being separated or a death in the family
  • Lack of supervision, especially in the hours after school
  • Having discipline that is too harsh, too lax, or inconsistent
  • Lack of involvement with family members
  • Delinquent or antisocial behavior by a family member
  • Being rejected by peers
  • Being involved with friends who are delinquent or at risk youth
  • Living in poverty

Parents of at risk teens may notice behaviors that worry them, such as:

  • Dramatic changes in appearance
  • Sudden changes in who they spend time with
  • Unexplained strange behavior or health problems
  • Acting aggressively or recklessly, or having injuries as the result of  anger issues or teen violence 
  • Significant changes in sleeping or eating habits
  • Withdrawing from others or acting secretive
  • Sudden loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • Their own belongings or other items in the house suddenly start going missing
  • Sudden drop in grades or school attendance
  • Carrying weapons or drug paraphernalia
  • Getting in trouble at school or with the police

Parents should talk to their at risk teens about any concerning behavior, which may indicate that teens are in trouble, and they should seek help from a doctor, counselor or other professional for at risk teens with unusual or dangerous behaviors.

There are also protective factors, or things that can help reduce the chances that at risk teens will become delinquent. Though many of the risk factors may be outside of a parent's control, they can help their teens with these protective factors:

  • Talk to your teen every day, and listen to what they say, trying not to judge. Having a parent or another close adult they can talk to helps teens stay out of trouble.
  • Set fair rules and establish reasonable consequences for breaking those rules, then enforce them consistently. It is best to avoid physical punishments.
  • Eat at least one meal together as a family every day, or if this is not possible, be there consistently every day when your teen awakens or when they go to bed.
  • Let your teen know what your expectations are in regards to drug use, violent or criminal behavior, premarital sex, and the importance of getting an education. Remind them that you love them and want them to be happy and successful and that you expect them to have good behavior.
  • Encourage teens in their positive activities, such as sports, music, art, or writing. It is important, however, that parents have realistic expectations of their teens' activities, such as not always requiring them to be a star athlete or the first chair musician. Service or volunteer activities and religious involvement can also help some at risk teens.
  • Find opportunities for family activities. This doesn't have to be expensive or elaborate, but can include going on a walk, having a picnic, playing a board game, or watching a movie together.
  • Get academic help, such as tutoring, for teens who are struggling in school.
  • Get counseling or treatment for teens who have medical problems, including mental health issues, depression or a history of abuse, aggression, or delinquency.

Most communities and many religious organizations offer help for parents of at risk teens, such as free or low cost counseling, tutoring or mentoring programs, and classes for parents and families to help teens deal with their risk factors and avoid delinquent behavior.  The earlier parents get help for at risk teens, they more likely they are to prevent serious problems in the teens' lives.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Injury Prevention and Control: Violence Prevention, "Youth Violence: Risk and Protective Factors" [online]

U.S. Department of Justice, Child Delinquency Bulletin Series, "Risk and Protective Factors of Child Delinquency" [online]

National Institute of Mental Health, Science Update, "Re-shaping Negative Thoughts Shields At-Risk Teens from Depression" [online]

U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus, "Teen Violence" and "Drug Signs and Teenagers" [online]

Related Article: Out of Control Teen? >>