Juvenile delinquency: risk factors and protective factors

As a parent, you may wonder whether your child is at risk for delinquency and whether there is anything you can do to prevent such difficulties. There are a number of risk factors that may come into play at different points in your child’s development and make him or her more likely to engage in delinquent behaviors. The greater your child’s exposure to risk factors, the more likely he or she may eventually become involved in the juvenile justice system.

However, exposure to multiple risk factors does not inevitably result in delinquency. Everyone has their own resiliency, and there are also protective factors that lessen the likelihood of delinquency in your child. Identifying both protective and risk factors may help you to introduce your child to the former while steering him or her away from the latter. Both risk factors and protective factors fall into four different domains.


Protective factors within the domain of community and school include a neighborhood that promotes healthy youth activities and safe environments in schools. Neighborhoods with high rates of crime and poverty and schools that fail to address students’ emotional, social and academic needs are risk factors.


Some of the protective and risk factors at the individual level are difficult, if not impossible, to control or change, such as a high I.Q. or delayed cognitive development. However, you can model positive social skills and encourage involvement in school clubs and other organizations. You may wish to seek professional advice for individual risk factors like antisocial behavior or hyperactivity.


Safe and healthy social activities, such as sports and recreation, and positive friendships are protective factors. Risk factors include isolation due to bullying, involvement in gangs and friendships with peers who engage in risky behaviors.


This domain is where you may have the most influence as a parent. Being present for your child as a supportive ally, providing a forum to discuss problems and encouraging shared family activities are protective factors. You can also take steps to minimize your child’s exposure to family violence, conflict and discord, which are significant risk factors.

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