Redefining "at-risk"

We’ve all heard the term “at-risk youth.” Depending on who you ask, you might get a different definition for what “at-risk” means. What makes a youth “at-risk?” A teacher might define it as a student who is at more likely to have poor outcomes in school due to problems at home, hanging out with the wrong crowd, or involved in drugs or alcohol. A parent might define “at-risk” as a child who is withdrawn and without positive peer or parental supports, a child who has been abused or neglected, or a teen who lacks the tools and resources needed to get him/her somewhere in life. Other people might say it is someone who has the potential to enter or be involved in the juvenile justice system. In any case of these definitions, there seem to be multiple factors that contribute to why a teen might be called “at-risk.”

We’re curious, how do young people themselves define “at-risk?” What do they think about this term when it is applied to them?

When we start to label our youth in this way, does that impact them in any way - negatively or positively?

After having the incredible opportunity of witnessing students in the S.T.A.R.T. program in Williamson County give a presentation for over 100 adults at the Juvenile Support Network Conference, we’ve been introduced to a new definition of AT-RISK. These kids, who were all labeled by this term, are all on their way to being successful adults because they turned AT-RISK into something positive for them. Here’s some ways in which they define AT-RISK:

A - Adaptable
T - Tenacious
R - Resolute
I - Imaginative
S - Sensitive
K - Keen

A - Adventurous
T - Talented
R - Resilient
I - Inventive
S - Spunky
K - Knowledgeable

A - Altruistic
T - Tolerant
R - Resilient
I - Interested
S - Strong
K - Kinetic

The labels we put on teens can have a huge impact on how we see them and how they see themselves. Let's choose our labels wisely.