What Is An At Risk Teenager?

Adolescence is a challenging time in a young person’s life. The physical changes that a teenager goes through are immense.

Adolescence is the time in which the start of puberty occurs, and the introduction of new and increased levels of hormones can be incredibly difficult to manage. Although a teenager’s brain is further developed than a pre-adolescent’s brain, a person’s frontal cortex is not fully formed until age twenty-five, at the earliest. This means that teenagers must inherently rely on their amygdala, leading to overly emotional choices, impulsivity, and rash decision-making. Advancing through the various physiological growth spurts that occur during one’s adolescence is unavoidable, and regardless of how painful they can be at times, are necessary to mature into adulthood. Every teenager will express the challenges of adolescence differently. There are certain unseemly aspects of teenage behaviors that are to be expected. Some teenagers may be faced with extenuating circumstances that can contribute to an increased inability to mature into adulthood in the same general timeframe as his or her peers. 

What Does ‘At Risk’ Mean?

Due to the fact that the term ‘at risk’ is so vague, there is a common argument that all teenagers could technically fall under the at risk category, as all teenagers are at risk in one-way or another. However, the true intention behind the phrase ‘at risk teenager’ is to describe a child who is less likely to successfully transition into adulthood. Although success is subjective, some examples in relation to at risk teenagers successfully transition into adulthood include: 

  • Ability to be financially independent
  • Avoiding crime
  • Academic success
  • Job readiness
  • Reliability
  • Positively contributing to society

Every individual is unique, and will likely reveal his or her preparedness for adulthood differently. Most young people that are identified as at risk teenagers have been exposed to certain contributing factors that can result in stunted development causing severe struggles in mastering the required prerequisites for maturing into adulthood. 

Risk Factors

There are several risk factors that can adversely affect a teenager’s ability to transition into adulthood. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) compiled a list of contributing factors, some of which include:

  • Poverty
  • Juvenile delinquency 
  • Undiagnosed mental health problems
  • Lack of parental supervision
  • Low IQ
  • Unstable educational environment
  • Family instability and/ or dysfunction
  • Social rejection by peers

Young people that are exposed to child abuse, neglect, and other adverse childhood experiences are also at greater risk for being at risk youth. It is important to note that not all children that are exposed to any combination of the above risk factors will undoubtedly become an at risk teenager. The above are merely commonly reported, and can be contributing factors of a young person falling into the category of an at risk teenager. 

Long Term Effects

With the proper guidance, at risk teenagers can learn the needed lessons to effectively mature into adulthood. However, the longer an at risk teenager goes without receiving help, the greater his or her chances are for developing significant tangential issues, that can further set them back. Some examples of potentially avoidable challenges that can arise include the following:

  • Violence
  • Self-harm
  • Substance abuse
  • Addiction 

Research has indicated that unaddressed at risk youth have increased rates of suicidal ideations both during adolescence as well as into adulthood. Although some risk factors a young person may be exposed to will be out of his or her control, any teenager has the choice to rise above what is beyond their control and persevere. While the various challenges each teenager faces will be nuanced and unique, at risk teenagers often have greater stumbling blocks placed on their path to maturing into adulthood. 

For Information and Support 

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know is in need of mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person for the long term. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.

Our admissions team is available to answer any general questions regarding mental health issues, treatment, and/or specific questions about the program at Pacific Teen Treatment and how we might be able to help your family.