At risk behavior in adolescent development

Adolescent can be defined as developmental stage between childhood and adulthood where through this crucial period they will have rapid changes in physical, emotion, cognitive change and also behavior. The adolescent stages can be divided to early adolescence (10-12 years), middle adolescence (13-15 years) and late adolescent (16 above) (Feldman, 2005). According to Western psychologists, “adolescence primarily as preparation for adulthood and this period as a time of potential crisis brought on by the uncertainties of the physical and social transitions between life stages (Bucholtz, 2002, p.528).

In this period they have many pressures exerted by family, peer, school and society. It also the most important period where it will determine and make teenager the person he or she is. One of the psychology scholar G.Stanley Hall noted that adolescent also called as period of storm and stress because adolescent being a time of emotional . He also argued that the concept of adolescent relates to the psychological problems associated with the transition from childhood to adulthood in modern societies (Demos, 1969).

At-risk behavior

The term ‘at-risk’ has been used widely in education, psychology, health and other field of study. The term of ‘at-risk’ always associated with many work like youth at risk or at-risk student. Most research support the definition of youth at risk as a student between aged 13 to18 years old who exhibits one or more of these criteria: a) Poor academic performance. b) Misbehaviour and discipline problems. c) Socioeconomic/family stressors and d) Negative attitudes toward school.

According to Dunn, 1987 (as cited in Redick, Sharon, Vail, 1991) Youth at risk are defined as children and adolescents who are not able to acquire and use the skills necessary to develop their potential and become productive members of society (p.12). In educational literature, the word at-risk has been used to describe including disadvantaged, culturally deprived, low ability, dropout, low performing, not acquiring skills and discipline problem.

Cuban (1989) mentions that the educator defined the problem of low achievement among at-risk in two ways: students who perform poorly in school because of their own poor achievement and students do so because of inadequacies in their family background. In contrast, psychologists and counsellor often use the term in describing children and youth with potential of developing emotional and behavioural problems (as cited in Kimberly 2000).

Risk factors of at- risk behavior

Youth can be at-risk for a variety of reason. Youth are at- risk because of environment in which they live, grow and learn or because of their own behaviour or by other individual. There are a great number of factors that put youth at-risk for not succeeding educationally or in life. Most have been influenced by unpleasant circumstances, such as poverty, low self-esteem, drug or alcohol abuse, poor health or nutrition, poor academic performance, inadequate opportunities for success in school, loss of hope for the future, and the lack of life goals (Redick, Sharon, Vail, 1991).

Numerous studies have shown that many researchers replete on various factors that lead to at-risk behaviour. They frequently used the term of ‘risk factor’ in many published journals and books. Risk factors are defined as those conditions that are associated with a higher likelihood of negative outcome (problem behaviour). According to Clark (1995) (as cited in Werner, 1990; Bogenschneider, Small & Riley, 1992) ‘risk factor are individual or environmental hazards that increase youngsters’ vulnerability to negative developmental outcomes’. Rutter, 1979 (as cited in Clark, 1995) said that ‘as the number of risk factors increase, the probability of problem behaviour increase’ (p.3). There are four risk factors that contribute to psychosocial problem among at-risk youth. The term psychosocial refers to the interplay between biological, physiological, emotional, cognitive, social, environmental and maturational factors.


The risk factors consistently found across studies include low educational aspiration and low self-esteem ( ). Poor school motivation appears to be the single most important marker for identifying adolescents likely to be at high risk (Resnick and Burt, 1996). Adolescents who engage in delinquent behaviour typically have a poor school record (McCord, 1992). These adolescents are more likely to show poor school attendance and drop out of school without a high school diploma, which consequently decreases their chances for labour-market participation ( ). A low degree of commitment to education also appears to be related to drug use in adolescence ( ) and early sexual activity ( ).

It has been suggested that engaging in problem behaviour might be a way to cope with a low sense of self-worth, dissatisfaction and low confidence in own abilities (Jessor et al., 1995). Low self-esteem appears indeed to be a significant predictor of mental health problems (Baldwin et al., 1989) and externalizing problems such as drug use (Stacy, Sussman, Dent, Burton, and Flay, 1992).


Scholars generally agree that much of children’s socialization takes place in the context of the family, for it is through the family that the developing child is afforded the opportunities and experiences necessary to acquire the fundamental skills, behaviours, values, and knowledge that enable him or her to engage successfully in social relationships (Maccoby, 1992).Numerous studies have demonstrated there a relationship between perceived family environment and youth’s psychological functions.

Rollins and Thomas review located additional evidence that adolescent self-esteem is related to family relationships, although most studies rely on the adolescents’ perceptions of these relationships. Variables reported to be significantly correlated with the adolescent’s self-esteem include the individual’s “feelings toward his or her parents” (O’Donnell, 1976). Among many different aspects of family functioning, the evidence seems clearest in showing that a low level of parental support and involvement increases the possibility of problem behaviour (McCord, 1992).

Another aspect consistently found as important in predicting problem behaviour is the degree of structure or control provided by the parent (Maccoby, 1992). Adolescents who are exposed to disciplinary parenting are more likely to develop problem behaviour (Baldwin et al., 1989; Loeber, 1990; Patterson, Reid, and Dishion, 1992)


It has consistently been found as a potent predictor of problem behaviour is the exposure to friends who model deviant behaviours (i.e., involvement with a deviant peer group) (Dishion, Andrews, and Crosby, 1995; Patterson et al., 1992). Deviant peers provide opportunities to engage in problem behaviour, provide considerable social pressure and positive reinforcement for deviant behaviour, and supply the adolescent with attitudes, motivations, and rationalizations to support antisocial behaviour (Patterson et al., 1989).

Risk factors within peer relations are not only limited to the involvement with deviant peers. More generally, it appears that strong peer orientation and the unusually dominant role of peers in the lives of adolescents are associated with a more negative self-concept and problem behaviours such as substance use (Conger et al., 1992; Dekovic, Meeus, and Gerris, in press; Wills, Vaccaro, and McNamara, 1992).


Negative school experiences can also be a major contributor to antisocial behaviour for some young people. Poor student- teacher relationships and a lack of engagement, poor school organization, large class sizes, low student-teacher cooperation, poor rule reinforcement, inadequate behaviour management, school failure, and bullying have all been shown to contribute (National Crime Prevention, 1999; Wasserman et al., 2003). A negative school climate is another major contributor to marginalizing and alienating at-risk students (McCrystal, Higgins, & Percy, 2006).


This study referred to Erik Erickson’s life-span theory as its theoretical foundation. Erik Erikson (1950) was the first to offer a comprehensive perspective on life-span development from birth to death. His life-span theory of development described humans as active and adaptive in mastering their environment, parents, and significant others as exerting an important influence on the development of children, culture as a unique expression of humanness, and development as a lifelong process.

This study focused on an elaboration of the fourth and fifth stages of Erickson’s (1950) theory, as they are most relevant when describing pre-pubertal and adolescent development. During the fourth stage of development, “Industry vs. Inferiority,” a young person directs energy toward mastering knowledge and intellectual skills and strives toward feeling productive and competent. During late childhood and the onset of puberty, youth begin to learn that they can accomplish things they never would have thought possible. In the fifth stage of development, “Identity vs. Identity Confusion,” adolescents seek to discover.

Self-disclosure can be a central aspect of the development and maintenance of close relationships (Prager, 1986). According to Doster and Nesbitt (1979): Self-disclosure is regarded as both an intra-personal and interpersonal process through which the individual becomes known to and knows others, develops a sense of rootedness or identity in community and fellowship with others, achieves self-congruence, acquires positive feelings of worth and develops a moral and spiritual fullness (p. 178).

Stiles (1987) stated that the benefit of self-disclosure is related to the depth and extent of the disclosure, as well as the accompanying affect. He continues to identify the most lasting benefit of disclosure as the growth of self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-understanding. One area where the benefit of self-disclosure has been identified is in the therapeutic process. Theoretical and empirical knowledge concerning the relationship of self-disclosure and the therapeutic process focuses on four different models (Doster & Nesbitt, 1979):

The fulfilment model is based on the assumption of a basic human drive toward self actualization, or fulfilment of potential. This model identifies self-disclosure as a means of fulfilling one’s personal and interpersonal potential. Through self-disclosure the individual attains and maintains congruence of self, derepression of the private self, and reintegration with the social community.

The interactional model presumes that all human behaviour is interactional. The primary assumption about individuals in this model is that their mental illness symptoms serve as covert communications to avoid the risk of openness and intimacy, thus controlling the direction of interaction. Psychopathological behaviour is viewed as disturbed communication.

The third model is the ambiguity reduction model. The focus of this model is that the individual’s difficulties are due to either a limited knowledge about their role, or an inhibition interfering with behaviour. Self-disclosure serves a central role in the reduction of ambiguity, as the individual discloses thoughts and feelings related to goals.

Social learning model is a fourth model. This theory suggests a relationship between self-disclosure and assertiveness skills training. Self-disclosure is seen as the product of the individual’s social learning history. The socialization of behaviour is seen as occurring as a function of the frequency and patterning of reinforcements in a person’s interpersonal environment.

These models develop a theoretical hypothesis concerning the relationship between

Youth and the environmental factors that potentially will increase the conditions compatible with self-disclosure. What is needed, is a means of supporting youth in attending to their private thoughts and feelings and developing skills in self-disclosing

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