Making an Impact on At-risk Youths
Many young people all over the country are categorized as “at-risk.” What can we do to help?
Friends can impact one another in both negative or positive ways: It is important, therefore, for parents and significant caregivers to monitor youngsters’ activities closely to encourage healthy relationships and avoid dangerous outcomes. To achieve this close monitoring, it is important to keep the lines of communication open between adult and youngster.
The term “at-risk” may be a modern expression, but there have been at-risk youths from the days of the Old Testament. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (better known, perhaps, by their Babylonian names as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) were at-risk youths—just like young Daniel. These young men always feared being harmed by King Nebuchadnezzar; they were victims of domestic violence and were even thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to worship the king’s idol (Daniel 3:19-23)—while Daniel’s punishment for the same offense was to be thrown into the lions’ den. Another at-risk youth was the young David, whose life was constantly in danger due to King Saul’s determination to kill him. And Jesus himself was at-risk from the beginning: when King Herod sought to kill him, his parents became refugees in Egypt in an effort to save the life of God, the Son.
How do today’s youths become at-risk? One among many possible reasons is that children who are mostly alone are more prone to be friendly with anyone who seeks to befriend them—and that “anyone” may be a bad influence who is actively seeking vulnerable youths. Additionally, some youths are made more at-risk because they are needy; some because they want to belong; some because they are abused at home; some because they need ”excitement” in life; and others because they are just easily led.
Making a difference with at-risk youths takes time, creativity and flexibility. In his 1999 book, At Risk, Dr. Scott Larson explains that most at-risk teenagers desperately need at least one individual willing to provide that level of commitment. He encourages youth workers to help find mature Christian adults willing to do what it takes to make such a difference. In other words, parents, teachers, and other caregivers who want to impact the lives of at-risk youths should work closely together to monitor their lives and to be kind, godly influencers—as the adults did in my church and community when I was a teenager (and still do) — by taking a keen interest in and guiding us youngsters as if we were their own children.