Protecting Youth from High-Risk Behaviors

Dr. Rich Patterson

Protecting Youth from High-Risk Behaviors

Alcohol use, illicit drug use, sexual activity, and Violence have to be the big four for protecting our youth.  In this photo, Gary Bendig captures two Cedar Waxwings feeding each other is an act of love.  As parents, we want to be proactive, and that includes love on these big four topics.  The Search Institute ( lists Problem Alcohol Use, Violence, Illicit Drug Use, and Sexual Activity as four high-risk behaviors for which we can help build resistance with youth.  In their surveys over many years, they have surveyed over five million kids 6-12th grades.  They list 40 assets that are desirable in childhood that can help to build resilience or Teflon coating for kids.  

Problem Alcohol Use is having used alcohol three or more times in the past 30 days or getting drunk once or more in the past two weeks (  Talking with kids about alcohol use and being transparent enough to share your own stories about the unfortunate decision of yourself or others will go a long way in helping them make the right decisions.  When we take the time to role-play situations, they will very likely find themselves in at some time; we help them learn to stand up for themselves and say no when appropriate.

Search Institute defines Violence as having engaged in three or more acts of fighting, hitting, injuring a person, carrying a weapon, or threatening physical harm in the past 12 months (  A parent’s natural default when they find that their child is involved in a violent incident is to deny their involvement.  I’ve found that it is much better to suspend your anger and judgment about what happened until you get to sit down with the school and law enforcement and ask many questions.  I also suggest asking questions of your child in such a way that they feel comfortable answering honestly.  For example, don’t say, “You didn’t do that?  Did you?”  Then the child feels like they need to align with your expectations, albeit too late.

Illicit Drug Use, according to Search Institute ( says, used illicit drugs (marijuana, cocaine, LSD, PCP or angel dust, heroin, or amphetamines) three or more times in the past 12 months. A best practice for kids and drugs is to do some personal work with them upfront.  When they are in elementary grades, role play with them, talk about the effects of drugs, mention family members or people you know whose lives have been marred by drugs.  Please talk about the concept that one always feels like one can stop, which is likely true at first.  But gradually, time by time, that becomes impossible, and you end up addicted.   By role-playing with them and giving them a comeback line to use, along with voting with their feet and walking away, you help equip your child to be more resistant and more Teflon coated.

The final is to help protect youth is Sexual Activity.  Search Institute defines it as, Has had sexual intercourse three or more times in a lifetime.  Sex advice is an area of personal family preference, but suffice it to say with the diseases and significant health and lifestyle impacts that abstinence is a good practice until they are truly ready for the responsibilities that go with such a practice.

By addressing these four areas with youth, we help protect them from High-Risk behaviors that can impact their lives.  Ensure that excellent reliable communication is open with your child on all of these topics and help them feel comfortable talking with you anytime.  Over time these topics will come up again, and it feels terrific when the child can speak to an adult, namely you, and get first-hand information, rather than relying on friends and who knows what sources.

Click here to read a related post on this topic about positive behaviors in youth Promoting Positive Behaviors in Youth – Dr. Rich Patterson (

Ver Well Mind has a wonderful post here on this topic Overview of Youth At-Risk Behavior (


Yours for Better Parenting,