Pointing fingers usually doesn't accomplish much. However, it is extremely valuable to know who and what is causing today's youth to become at-risk.
Nothing is more destructive to a teen and their family than the abuse of alcohol and drugs; the earlier the intervention, the better. Unfortunately teens often hide their alcohol/drug usage from their family and it can take months or even years before the parents become aware of the problem. Many parents minimalize the problem and don’t pick up on the warning signs until the child has spun out of control. Finally the family is confronted with an addicted teenager and is unable to deal with the situation on their own. Shame and denial become obstacles to the teen’s recovery (Parent Teen Guide).
Unfortunately, teenagers often don’t see the link between their actions today and the consequences tomorrow. They have the mindset that they are indestructible and immune to the problems that others experience. Some teens will experiment with alcohol or drugs and stop, or continue to use occasionally. Others will develop a dependency and will end up causing significant harm to themselves, their families, and society.
Each year, thousands of at-risk teens are diagnosed with clinical depression. If left untreated or ignored, it can be a devastating illness for the teen and their family. If allowed to continue, depression can lead to attempts at suicide. In high risk teens with depression – that is teens who have threatened or attempted suicide – there are four risk factors that account for more than 80 percent of the risk for suicide. They are: major depression, lack of mental health treatment, bipolar disorder, and easy access to firearms (The Warning Signs and Major Risk Factors of Suicide).
With increasing industrialization and urbanization, as well as the disappearing family unit and community social structures, more and more youth find themselves without social supports, adequate nurturing from parents, and the ability to function in school settings. At the same time, they may experience a growing dependency on drugs and alcohol. Without a strong family unit, at-risk teens are attracted to the street gang “family” lifestyle.
Youth experience increased freedom from parental scrutiny, and with this freedom comes an opportunity to become involved in socially unacceptable activities. Peers have tremendous influence among their fellow teens and a juvenile’s behavior is often dictated by whether their peer group is involved in drugs, gangs, and other forms of antisocial behavior (Juvenile Justice in America, 333).
The more of these factors that are present in a teen’s life, the more likely it is that he or she will become involved in problem behavior. The rapidly expanding underclass is one of the most serious problems facing at-risk youth. The underclass is made up of people living below the poverty level. Joblessness pervades the inner cities and finding employment is difficult. These teens live in deteriorated neighborhoods and go to sub-standard schools. Another feature of underclass life is the ever increasing trend of adolescent females having children out of wedlock, which only perpetuates the welfare and poverty cycle to another generation (Juvenile Justice in America, 418-419).
These realities go to the heart of the problems facing many at-risk youth today. It reflects the fact that impoverished and dysfunctional families have trouble raising children that have the skills to become contributing members of society. The challenge is to provide nourishing environments so that adolescents can be hopeful regarding their futures. Prevention programs must be developed with young children before they become involved in antisocial groups and commit illegal activities.
At-risk teens post a more challenging problem, because many have already been socialized into a deviant lifestyle. For these kids to feel hopeful, they must come to believe that the future has possibilities for them, they can attain their goals, and there are adults who will support them so they can better their lives (Juvenile Justice in America, 424).