In recent decades, youth violence, teenage pregnancy, school failure, drug and alcohol use, and other forms of youthful misbehavior have become serious problems. One response to these problems has been the development and application of the “at-risk” label. The purpose of the “at-risk” label is to identify and “treat” individuals at risk for developing these behaviors. However, studies of the “at-risk” label suggest problems in both its definition and its use. The broad and all-encompassing definition of “at-risk” allows nearly every teenager to be identified as “at-risk,” although those teens most often targeted with “at-risk” programming come from low-income families and neighborhoods. In addition, evidence is emerging that suggests that self-fulfilling prophecies and lower self-esteem frequently occur among teenagers who are labeled “at-risk.” Perhaps the greatest problem with the “at-risk” label is that it may draw attention and resources away from the social conditions that contribute to the problems of today’s young people. Therefore, an analysis of the “at-risk” label and its application to teenagers is needed to assess the effectiveness of the label and to generate alternative methods of handling one of society’s foremost concerns.
Jennifer Hetzel, ’99 St. Charles, IL
Sponsor: Christopher Carlson