At-Risk Children and Youth

Posted by: Asa Don Brown on July 22, 2011 2:09 pm

At-risk is a relatively new term in our world. We hear the terminology, but few of us can fully explain what it is to be “at-risk.” What does it mean to be at-risk? Who are we considering to be at-risk? Why are they at-risk? What are the factors that may cause them to be at-risk? What are the risky behaviors, attitudes, and perceptions that might label a child as being at-risk? Are at-risk behaviors roadmaps of an egregious life to come?

When a child begins leaning towards behaviors, attitudes, and perceptions that are risky, they are behaving in a fashion that practitioners might diagnose as at-risk.  Such behaviors are indicative of children who are having problems in school: whether socially, academically, emotionally, or psychologically.  These children are finding it difficult to adjust to a particular environment. The problems may, and often include, difficulties within the home:  including socioeconomic, demographically, and geographically.   At-risk children are often witnesses of, or engaged in, behaviors that are of a high risk nature such as: victims of abuse, neglect, and maltreatment; substance abuse; premarital sex; teen or familial suicide; school dropouts; teenage pregnancies; victims or witnesses of violent crimes; and domestic violence.  

We seldom consider children who are socially awkward, intellectually disabled or challenged; academically bored or unstimulated; or who perceivably have “good” homes as being at-risk, but truthfully, they are the ones that fall through the cracks.  Why might a child who comes from a good home, or has good grades, be more likely to fall through the cracks? It stems from their frequent ability to “hide” whatever issues may be plaguing them.  Whereas, a child who comes from an abusive home is more likely to be associated with social services or government systems.


Preventive measures begin in the home and the schools.  The home is, or should be, a place of safety, care, and nurturing. The school should be a reflective model of the home, but distinctly different, because it is the village center offering the community’s objectives to teach, train and mould a child into becoming the best that they can be.

Discipline is a vital aspect of growth, but of equal importance is praise.  We, may recall our own parent’s techniques of parenting, discipline, and praise.  We may also recall our schools resources for using discipline and praise.  As a child, I recall having received discipline and praise by both my parents and my schools.  Moreover, I recall measures taken by both, that could have been perceived as reprehensible, and others as admirable. A child’s punishment should not instill fear, illicit tears, or bring a child to the brink of breaking.  A child’s punishment should be a teaching tool moulding a child into becoming a better person within an unconditional environment.  A child’s punishment should be reflective of what a parent might receive from his or her own boss or a university professor. 

Praise, Praise, Praise a child for the good they commit and the wrongs they rectify. 

Children need to be reminded daily of their worth, their value, their importance, and the unconditional bond that unites them unto you.  Furthermore, I beseech all parents and teachers to love all children unconditionally.  Children who are loved and respected without premise or conditions have a greater chance to thrive than those who are reminded of their past failures. Remind children that their successes and failures are not  representations of their worth.  For an individual’s failures and successes are simply learning lessons in this game that we call life.  For if we can see ourselves beyond our failures and our successes, then we can see our selves as good and ernest people simply trying to live the gift of life. 


Children want an ear to hear, a voice to liberate, and a shoulder to lean upon.  For many children, they do not feel heard, listened to, respected or shown simple dignity.  Children need an adult to show a willingness to simply be in their presence.   We need to let down our guard, allowing a child to express their concerns, frustrations, and agitations.  It is not uncommon for children to feel unheard.  For children who are already living in situations that foster high risks, a child who is vulnerable and has no direction in life; they may seek out measures to establish a symbolic means of control such as: the usage of substances, alcohol and drugs, eating disorders, criminal activity, cheating on exams, and sexual activity.

Children want to feel as though their life matters.  Be considerate of your child and be involved in their life.  Do not hassle your child about their grades, rather work with your child to figure out what they need, to perform well in school. 

Teachers often fail students by complimenting the successful students and ignoring those who do not prove as successful.  Teachers need to embrace and praise all children.  They need to reward every child for their effort rather than their academic marks. Parents also need to embrace and praise their child for his or her efforts, and offer a hand up when a child is needing help.  Not all children will request help or show signs of failing.  You need to be an active participant in the life of the child. 

If you discover that your child is participating in risky behaviors, do not judge, negatively criticize, or belittle your child. Rather, discuss the why’s of your child’s choices. What is it that has attracted your child to this particular activity, and what are the perceived benefits of this particular activity for your child?  Has the activity provided your child with a sense of control?  Does your child feel empowered? Has your child developed “friendships” because of this negative activity? The reasons are as vast as the possible answers, therefore the most important step for you as a parent, or as a teacher, is to communicate with your children.  Healthy communication and an unconditional environment can prove the greatest asset to defeating at-risk behaviors.

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

10 comments on “At-Risk Children and Youth”

  1. Marlo Nery says:

    I think it is important to communicate with the children as parent or teachers just to know if they are at risk. always stay positive when we communicate with the youth.

  2. Ellen Niekoop says:

    I personally think that teachers should work alongside Youth workers and phsychologists instead of putting that as well on their shoulders. Teachers in Canada have alot on their schoulders already (they have to focused on the academic achievements of their pupils). Human services is a different profession, a specialised profession. It is so important that we advocate to have those working in all schools to prevent drop-outs, and to be able to recognize problems in an early stage. So that professionals can intervene on time to help these youth. Also because the majority of problems become more prevalent during Highh school period, and can prevent them to become victems of criminal justice system.

  3. Teddy says:

    You made me think of what one of my teacher once told me: children do not listen to/understand sentences with negation in it…

    so, instead, we should try to say things in a positive/affirmative way…

    for example we could say ” let’s do this in another way ” or “let’s do something else” rather than “don’t do this”!

    1. Dear Teddy,

      I am appreciative of your very intriguing way of looking at “at-risk” children.” I too am for saying and inspiring children-youth through our verbal communication. I thank you for your comments and your time.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  4. This is a wonderful description of good and sensitive parenting and teaching, and of the adjustments that children make in the absence of these. My only concern is the introduction of the notion of ‘at-risk,’ which shifts these ideas into a discourse of psychological normativity, with the result that marginal behavior becomes pathologized. There is a real danger that looking at such children as ‘at-risk’ depoliticizes the true sources of the difficulty, and places the focus of the problem inordinately on the child’s response, rather than the environment the child is adapting to. Appropriate intervention must be part of a program of acknowledgement of the social, familial, and economic pressures, development of adaptive skills, all combined with a program of empowerment. The psychological focus should be aimed at facilitating these. Otherwise we are in danger of focusing on the symptoms and not the problem, and covertly blaming the child or the child’s models. I suggest we add the dimensions of socio-political awareness to our psychological models and, if possible, social advocacy and change.

    1. Dear Dr. Steven Reisner,

      First of all, my apologies for the delayed response. I am appreciative of your time and valuable feedback. I wholeheartedly agree with many of your sentiments on the terminology of “at-risk”. I had been requested to write this short article on “at-risk children and youth.” In my article, I confer with many of your thoughts, opinions, and ideas introduced in your responses.

      I am sincerely grateful of your time, thoughts, and feedback.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  5. ian klepsch says:

    Glad to see I am pointed in the right direction as a father. Having been the kind of kid that didnt have many groups, I try to be vigilant in keeping my own children praised and content in the home. It is not so easy to control the outside environment.

    1. Dear Ian

      It is all that be asked, that “we”, as parents, diligently seek to prove to prove our very best. We can learn from others and instill principles that we know to be true and positively influenced.

      I do thank you for your comments and your time.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  6. Tracy says:

    Dr. Brown, so many of our children are vulnerable. The roads to risky life-style choices are everywhere. We need to help, love, support and guide our children to make healthy life-style choices. Every child deserves to be loved unconditionally. I totally agree with the fact that this unconditional love can come from the school environment beyond the home. This makes me consider our teachers. Pondering all the teachers in my academic career, there are only a small handful of them capable of true support and ideal acceptance of all their students. Possibly, students of education should be instructed in the benefits of empathy, compassion and understanding.

    Thank you for the thought provoking words.


    1. Dear Tracy,

      I sure appreciate your wonderful remarks. The road is pebbled with so many choices in life. It is important that as parents, and those teaching our children guide them to proving their very best.

      I am appreciative of your very valuable feedback.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

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