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At risk youths and the hope of a new beginning


Drug abuse. PHOTO: BBC

Every youth has the mental capacity to learn, grow, thrive and flourish.

The reality is that many of them have been stalled emotionally and psychologically over the years by negative situations and bad experiences.

One of my cardinal purposes in life is to help at-risk youths overcome their limiting behaviour and live a fulfilling and productive life.


My over eight years of experience working with this category of vulnerable youths has opened up my mind to embrace a recurring reality among them- they are all full of possibilities, regardless of how deteriorating their situations may be.

With this positive mentality, we can change the story of at-risk youths to ‘at-promise youths.’

Zig Ziglar said: “A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could.”

Every youth has what it takes to become a successful member of society. When youths are exposed to the right environment, relationships and resources, they undoubtedly grow up to become very productive and responsible adults.

Every youth deserves to be given a second chance, no matter how deteriorating and precarious their situation may be.

With my years of experiencing at working with at-risk youths, I have come to believe strongly that there is no situation that is beyond redemption.

Every youth is a ball of energy with potentials and propensity to impact the world positively. Many youths are in a dire need of mentors that can help them guard their energy in a positive direction.

Youths need platforms to be themselves and express themselves effectively. When youths are denied productive ways of expressing themselves, they are often left with alternatives that could be counter-productive.

Young people who don’t have hope and don’t know how to dream don’t care what they do to themselves or anyone else.

Some youths see criminal activities as a response to hopelessness and societal neglect or as the solution to boredom.


An at-risk youth is a child who is less likely to transit successfully into adulthood. It also can refer to the ability to become a positive member of society by avoiding a life of crime.

There are many critical factors that can stunt a youth’s transition to adulthood, including poverty (low-income families), family instability and dysfunction, unstable school environment, low self-esteem, learning difficulties, poor community resources, unemployment and adverse childhood experiences.

Lack of a stable financial situation or unstable family dynamics, such as broken homes or absent parental figures can also create instability and cause development issues for youth.

Learning difficulties, such as autism, when not properly managed, can put a youth on a frustrating path with society.

Frederick Douglas said: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults.”

The longer an at-risk youth goes without receiving help, the more prone to becoming a nuisance to society and the more prone they are to a life full of other issues.

Youths going through various kinds of abuse normally end up hurting others, as it goes that ‘hurting people hurt people.’

But how can someone help an at-risk or troubled youth? If you are worried a teen is headed down a dangerous path, consider the following steps.

Openly communication with the teen and get to the root of what is going on. But don’t pressure them if they would rather not talk; let them know you are always available if they want to discuss later on.

Your communication should not be judgmental or fault-finding. We must communicate with them not to find fault, but to find remedy. Young people need models, not critics.


Take An Interest

John C. Maxwell said: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Familiarise yourself with things teens are interested in. If they play a certain video game, ask them about it.

Ask them how school or extra-curricular activities are going. Find talking points to show genuine interest and you will build a trusting and genuine relationship.

Deep underneath the rebelliousness of at-risk youths are voices wanting to be heard. No matter how rebellious they are, there is a place within them that is seriously crying for help.

Relate To Teens’ Friends

Jack Canfield said: “You become like people who you spend most of your time with.”

If possible, communicate with the teen’s friends. Find out if the teen is hanging out with a different crowd and what they do with their friends.

Build a trusting relationship with some of the teen’s friends, so if they notice troubling behaviour, they feel comfortable sharing their concerns with you.

Help Them Rediscover Themselves

Myles Munroe said: “Most people don’t know who they are, so they die as someone else.”

There is no recovery without discovery. Every youth is on a journey to discovering him/herself and for any youth to become a productive member of society, he/she needs to discover his/her inner and authentic self. Help them discover and follow their passion, talent, gifts and dreams.

Rodney White said: “It cost nothing to dream and everything not to.” We must let them know that they cannot become what they want by remaining what they are.

Having A Healthy Expectation Of Them

The law of expectation summarily states that people turn out to become what we expect from them.

Erickson’s Law of Expectation simply states that 85 per cent of what you expect to happen- Will.

Most at-risk youths are only responding to negative and unguarded parental expectations.


Connect Them With A Mentor

There are four basic needs to help at-risk youths- love, attention, acceptance and persistent concern.

Troubled youths seriously need someone that will not give up on them. They need a steadfast support system.

Someone needs to intervene to help them and give them hope for a new beginning. They surely need to regain their ability to dream again and design their own future.

It has been observed that the inability to visualise and create a future puts every youth at risk.

At-risk youths are used to chaos and confusion and the first thing they need is someone that can bring order by reducing their degree of disorderliness.

Expose Them To Social Works And Volunteer Programmes

Sometimes, we really need to show youths how to take responsibilities. This helps them to see themselves as agent of change in society.

The key to becoming a responsible member of society is simply learning to take responsibilities.

I have often recommended that the best way to discipline youths is to engage them in social works. Schools typically discipline students’ misbehavior by suspending them. This sends a message that they are in fact not wanted.

This “push out” model of discipline tends to make a bad situation worse. Involving youth in social skills groups or outside activities helps to engage them in the school process and redirect their energies toward positive alternatives.


Building Up Their Self-Esteem

A youth who has no inner life is a slave to his surroundings. Knowing one’s identity and maintaining a healthy self-esteem is the first step towards living a fulfilling life.

One of my areas of expertise is in helping at-risk youths to develop a healthy self-esteem. Most at-risk youths already have a battered identity.

Most youths are presently at risk simply because they are passing through a transient ‘identity crisis’ phase.

When identity has not been ascertained, abuse is inevitable.

Reward Improvement

Plato said: “Never discourage anyone who continually makes progress, no matter how slow.”

Every youth responds to rewards. We must create an enabling environment that rewards conscious improvement, no matter how small.
Parental Attention

The greatest hindrance to a child’s development is parental neglect. The place of parents cannot be trivialised in a child’s development. Schools should encourage parents to be involved with their children’s school life.

We need to create an ecosystem of rehabilitated youths and mentors. They need mental support, a coach, a mentor and a healthy group support system where they can share their challenges and opinions with people that are struggling with the same kind of challenges.

To all the at-risk youths out there, I will like to leave you with this quote from Christine Mason Miller: “At any given moment in life, you have the power to say: ‘This is not how the story is going to end.”

No matter how long you have been failing at life, always remember that success is not final; failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.

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