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Risk Factors and Protective Factors
Young people who adopt negative behaviors usually share certain characteristics – traits that are apparent even before any negative behavior actually occurs. Psychologists call these “Risk Factors.” When one or more of these are present, the child is at heightened risk of adopting negative behaviors in the future. The more risk factors present, the higher the odds.
Risk factors have a counterpart in positive traits called “Protective Factors.” Protective factors are traits that are shared by young people who do not tend to adopt negative behaviors. Adolescents with strong protective factors are less susceptible to negative influences and tend to choose positive activities in their place.
Young people can sometimes be taunted or teased by their peers into doing things they don’t want to do or things they know are wrong. (“My friends do drugs. They’re pushing me to start. I want their respect, so I’ll do it.”).
Sometimes no outside pressure is applied at all. Instead, the child observes what peers are doing, and adopts the same behaviors out of a desire to be accepted. (“The kids I think are ‘cool’ do drugs. I’ll start doing drugs so I can be like them.”).
Peers have a strong influence on a child’s behavior choices. If your child’s friends are involved in negative behaviors, the odds are high that your child is, too. This is especially true for young people who have trouble resisting peer influences.
Negative peer influences are among the strongest predictors of negative behaviors. As a parent, you can take steps to counteract peer influences. Take an early, active role in your child’s choice of friends. The child who is surrounded by positive, well–behaved kids from an early age is less likely to be exposed to negative peer influences.
In addition to reducing risk factors, you can nurture and reinforce protective factors (skills, attitudes, and beliefs that help kids make positive lifestyle choices). Protective factors even seem to help high–risk youths overcome the odds and avoid negative behaviors.
A stable, caring and supportive relationship with at least one adult, either a parent or another dependable adult. Psychologists suggest that a strong bond with at least one adult is one of the most important protective factors for a child. Ideally, parent and child will have formed from an early age a relationship based on mutual trust, understanding, respect and love. Such a relationship allows the parent to fill a variety of roles – caregiver, protector, counselor, teacher, mentor, disciplinarian and cheerleader – during the child’s development.
Sense of hopefulness and purpose – the belief in a bright and successful future. Hopefulness and purpose represent more than just a sunny attitude – they’re necessary to establishing and achieving positive goals, a core building block for success and a key element in resisting negative behaviors. After all, to young people with their eyes on a goal, negative behavior isn’t a temptation, it’s an obstacle on the path to achievement.
The skills, attitudes and behaviors that constitute protective factors need to be nurtured over time. Helping in this development is one of the most important contributions a parent can make. By doing so, you’ll help your child avoid problems in adolescence and provide him or her with a strong foundation for achieving success in all areas of his/her life.
1. Enhancing parent–child relationship:
A strong bond with at least one adult is extremely important for a child.
Take on projects together as a family. Taking part in meaningful and challenging family activities will help your child feel needed and important and will strengthen his or her sense of responsibility.
Set aside a regular time each week to plan family activities, and encourage your child to suggest activities.
Schedule family meetings to discuss family issues and resolve problems.
Give praise where praise is due. Acknowledging a child’s efforts will give him or her the incentive to continue.
Eat meals together regularly.
Observe traditional family rituals, such as holidays, birthdays and special events.
2. Building a better sense of purpose and hopefulness and a belief in a bright and successful future:
A sense of purpose and a positive attitude are necessary to establishing and achieving positive goals – a core building block for success and a key element in resisting negative behavior.
Encourage your child to look toward the future with optimism and to picture a bright and positive future from an early age.
Encourage your child to look ahead to what he/she would like to be doing one, three, five and 10 years from now.
Support your child’s positive ideas and discuss things he/she can do to make them happen.
Help your child keep a positive outlook, even when obstacles or hardships block his or her path.
3. Developing good relationships: Teach your child how to:
Choose friends wisely.
Get along with others.
Share and compromise.
Solve arguments and problems without fighting and,
Be the kind of person other people want to have as a friend and teammate.
4. Setting Realistic Goals:
Your child will learn how to make progress in life by learning to set goals and working to reach them.
Discuss what your child would like to accomplish.
Help your child set goals and work to reach them. The goals need to be realistic – something the child can actually accomplish.
Help develop a reasonable timetable, then help your child achieve results.
When a goal is achieved, celebrate the event.
As the child grows older, continue to help establish and reach new and larger goals.
5. Improving Problem–Solving Skills:
Children need to be taught how to make the best possible decisions when faced with a problem or when they need to choose a course of action.
Help your child consider alternative solutions.
Have your child think about the possible consequences of each alternative.
Select a solution that is most consistent with goals and values.
6. Teaching Self–Discipline:
Teach your child to consider the short and long term consequences of his or her actions.
Encourage your child to question which choices will help or hinder reaching set goals.
Have your child consider whether he/she would be proud of the choice or later regret it. Such questions help a child look toward the future instead of seeking instant gratification.
7. Building Self–Esteem and Self–Confidence:
You can enhance your child’s self–esteem by helping him or her develop a belief in himself/herself and his/her abilities.
Point out special talents and skills.
Let him or her know you believe in his/her ability to achieve results.
Praise his/her successes, both large and small.
Help him or her learn from failures without criticizing his/her efforts.
8. Being in Control of One’s Life:
By learning to make decisions for himself/herself, your child can learn to influence events rather than being a victim of them.
Encourage your child to make decisions appropriate for his/her age.
Help him or her to learn from the natural consequences of his/her actions.
Help him or her see how his/her actions and choices affect the events in his/her life.
9. Maintaining A Sense of Humor:
A sense of humor helps a person maintain balance and avoid overreacting to situations.
Teach your child to see the humor in life and its events.
Encourage children to laugh at himself or herself when appropriate.
Resisting peer pressure is one of the greatest challenges an adolescent will face. They may know an activity is wrong and may genuinely not want to take part, but the pressure to conform is intense.
Parents can’t make peer pressure go away and they can’t always be there to help shape their child’s decisions. But you can help them follow their own good instincts by teaching them a variety of ways to avoid giving in to direct peer pressure. Then, when they’re put on the spot, it will be easier for them to resist.
You might start by pointing out the most obvious solution, which is to firmly say, “No, I don’t want to do that,” and then walk away. But many kids are scared that such abrupt action will damage their relationships with their friends.
Point out possible repercussions: “We could get thrown out of school for this.” Or: “My dad would go ballistic if he found out.”
Use a little humor: “No thanks. I have a date with Aishwarya Rai and I hear she disapproves doing drugs.” Humor is one of the surest ways to calm a tense situation. You and your child can even have fun together coming up with different responses.
Suggest an alternative: Say “No” and change the subject or suggest another activity. “Did you hear what happened to Manish last night?” Or: “Let’s go check out this new mall.”
Reverse the pressure : Sometimes, the best defense is a good offense. “Arre, you know I’m not into that.” Or: “I thought you were my friend. A friend wouldn’t hassle me.”
Ask a question: “Why would I want to do that?” Or: “Have you thought about what would happen if we got caught?”
Make an excuse, even if you have to make one up: “I can’t. A friend’s coming over in 15 minutes, and I have to get home.” Or: “I’m training for sports, and I don’t want to do that.”
Give a reason: “No way. Dope make my breath smell worse than an ash tray!”
Go over the responses with your child, then think up different situations he/she might face and practice responding to them. Bear in mind that what works best will vary from person to person and among different peer groups, so leave it to your child to decide the most appropriate responses.
Finally, have your child find a buddy in his or her peer group. They can agree in advance to support each other’s positions. It’s a lot easier to stand up to peer pressure if you can count on at least one other person for support.
Talking about sex and drugs with your children is usually a conversation that most parents want to miss, and might even dread. However, it may be one of the most important conversations you ever have with your child, and you might even save her life.
Teaching children to say no to sex and drugs doesn’t start when your child is in junior college. You need to arm your child with some necessary qualities that will allow him/her to say no to these things on his/her own when he/she is faced with them on his/her own.
Your child having high self–esteem will really be the key element in his/her saying no in the face of peer pressure. The ways a parent can help raise the child’s self esteem is to allow him/her to make some of their own decisions – don’t always boss around and be strict and controlling with decisions, allowing only your decisions to be the “Correct ones.” Let them voice their opinions, and let them talk to you as to why they feels the way they do, and why they holds the opinions that they do. Having a reason why they feel the way they do is very important.
Later you will have to give her reasons why drugs and sex are no good for them (lowered chances of college, possible welfare, AIDS/HIV, other STDs, teenage pregnancy, health problems in general from both, emotional scars due to both, possible religious convictions). Your child will remember the conversation you have with them about why they should not do drugs or have sex. If you tell your child “Don’t do drugs or have sex– because I said so!” your child will, in the face of peer pressure, wonder “WHY NOT?” and there is a much higher chance for them to try drugs and have sex when they sees no reason why NOT to do those things.
Other ways to help your child to have high self–esteem might be to get them involved with sports or other extra–curricular activities. Research tells us that the more sports and activities a child is involved with, the less likely they are to get involved with drugs or have early sex. Sports teach discipline and give your child a sense of achievement, which can also help their self–esteem.
And lastly, don’t forget to just talk to your child! Try to talk to your child every day about her schooling, friends, sports, and her life in general. There is a happy medium between being a friend and a parent, and you can act like both, when the time is right. And there is a time for both. Lots of parents can be best friends with their children, as long as they don’t abandon their parenting role while taking on the friend role.
Even though teenagers sometimes act like it is “Not cool” for their parents to talk to them about sex or drugs, you need to. It is your job, and if you don’t do it, they may not learn the facts about early sex and/or drugs. Plus, teenagers want your information, guidelines and rules, although they would never admit it. Your rules and those “lectures” prove that you care about them.