By Gbenga Adebambo
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults”- Frederick Douglass
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 due to negative situations and bad experiences. One of my cardinal purposes in life is helping at-risk youths overcome their limiting behavior and live a fulfilling and productive life. My over eight years of experience working with these category of vulnerable youths has opened up my mind to embrace a recurring reality among these youths-they are all full of possibilities regardless of how deteriorating their situations may be! With these positive mentality, we can change the story of at-risk youths to at-promise youths.
Zig Ziglar once 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 the 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. At-risk youths pose a real danger to the society. 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. Success can include academic success and job readiness, as well as the ability to be financially independent. It also can refer to the ability to become a positive member of the society by avoiding a life of crime. The three most vulnerable members of the society, in increasing order, are women, youths and children but the only group that is gradually becoming an endangered species is the youth because they are the most exposed to societal evils like drug addiction, unemployment, violence, pornography and various forms of abuse.
The term at-risk youth typically implies a future with less than optimal outcomes. In the broadest sense, a youth at-risk is a child or adolescent who faces extreme threats to a successful transition into adulthood. Characteristics of at-risk youths include truancy, lack of interest in academics, and disconnection from the school environment. When at-risk and troubled youth can’t transfer successfully into adulthood, local communities and businesses suffer, costing both millions of dollars.
Youth are considered at-risk for a number of reasons. Examples include youths who may be: Homeless or transient, involved in drugs or alcohol, abused sexually, physically or emotionally, mentally ill, neglected at home or live in stressful family environments, lacking social or emotional support, involved with delinquent peers.
There are many critical factors that that can stunt a youth’s transition to adulthood: 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 like autism, when not properly managed, can put a youth on a frustrating path with the society.
Frederick Douglass once 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 the society. Ignoring the warning signs an at-risk youth displays may lead to future problems, including: Addiction, violence, self-Harm, substance abuse and juvenile crimes.
The longer an at-risk youth goes without receiving help, the more prone they are to a life full of other issues. Youths that are going through various kinds of abuse normally end up hurting others as it goes that ‘hurting people hurt people’. At-risk youth have higher rates of suicidal thoughts and incarceration. They are often identified after running away, skipping school, drinking under age, engaging in sexual behavior, displaying disruptive behavior, bullying/harassment, fighting, and committing acts of vandalism. These behaviors can be precursors to dropping out of school, acquiring low paying jobs and/or unemployment, and adult criminal behavior.
Without help, the future of a youth displaying at-risk effects may be in danger. But how can someone help an at-risk or troubled youth? If you are worried a teen is headed down a dangerous path, consider these steps:
Help them rediscover themselves: Myles Munroe once 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 themselves and for any youth to become a productive member of the society, they need to discover their 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 can’t become what they want by remaining what they are.
Communicate: Open communication with the teen and get to the root of what’s going on. But don’t pressure them if they’d rather not talk; let them know you’re 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!
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. Knowing your identity is the first step to overcoming defeat and failure in life.
Take an interest: John C. Maxwell once said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. Familiarize 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.
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 who 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 visualize and create a future put 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 the youths how to take responsibilities. This helps them to see themselves as an agent of change in the society. The key to becoming a responsible member of the 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.
Having a healthy expectation of them: There is a law of expectation that summarily states that people turn out to become what we expect from them. Erickson’s Law of Expectation simply states that 85% of what you expect to happen … Will. Most at-risk youths are only responding to negative and unguarded parental expectations.
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 behavior, they feel comfortable sharing their concerns with you.
Reward improvement: Plato once 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 trivialized 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.
I have also observed that the issue of role models and their influence on the youths should be revisited. If you want to destroy a generation of youths, lower their role models and references! We must help the youths in finding role models that they can truly pattern their lives after. The advent of the entertainment industry has really encroached on the sanity of the youths. It is seriously appalling to know that many of the artists that the youths are looking up to do not possess the virtues and values that are sacrosanct to youth development.
The government will need to seriously work on rehabilitation of teens and youths committing juvenile crimes with certain policies designed into their programmes. Youths in prisons should be given utmost priority when it comes to reformation and rehabilitation as they are more prone to societal misdemeanors.
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!
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “We cannot always build the future for our youths, but we can build our youth for the future”-Franklin D. Roosevelt