Pop culture and Hollywood often portray troubled teens as inner-city youth, wandering urban streets without supervision, looking for trouble.
However, statistics disprove this perception. In study after study, researchers have shown that urban teens are not statistically more likely than rural teens to engage in most high-risk behaviors, such as having unprotected sex, drinking, drug use, fighting or self-harm activities.
Unfortunately, there are other factors that create challenges for urban teens and their families. Some threats are obvious and of higher concern in the city environment, such as gang participation.
Gang activity and its associated risks – violent crime, weapon use and drug abuse and distribution, to name a few – are more prevalent in densely populated urban areas with low household income and high unemployment. Although an urban address alone is not a risk factor for gang affiliation, parents of troubled teens who live in city communities should understand that trauma and other existing emotional conditions can make teens more vulnerable to gang recruitment. And once in a gang, your child is likely to experience more life-changing traumatic events than peers who stay out of gangs.
While traumatic stress is certainly not the sole cause for gang involvement and delinquency, it can make gangs more appealing. Gangs can offer a sense of safety, control and rules often missing in the lives of traumatized youth. Gangs can also provide a place for youth to stand up for themselves through behaviors such as aggression and violence. Faced with school failure and a lack of positive options, traumatized youth may find some feeling of success, belonging and self-worth through gang involvement.
Other risk factors for urban youth are not specific to troubled teens. Most urban residential areas are socially disorganized. Community building is challenged by a prevalence of renting families who move around a lot, and by socioeconomic hurdles, such as the need to work more than one job or nontraditional work hours. These factors can make it difficult for urban teens and their families to form positive connections in their schools and communities. Without an existing network of parents working together to supervise and be aware of local threats to teens, families are isolated and must rely on their own resources.
Fortunately, the challenges of raising a teen in an urban community are balanced by its benefits. Take advantage of the myriad organizations and recreational opportunities that city life provides. Find your favorite urban park, and go frequently to encourage and engage in outdoor play with your child. Take in the arts. Look for volunteer opportunities to work side-by-side with your teen at places like soup kitchens or homeless shelters.
Most importantly, no matter where you live, look for ways to help your teen connect with you and your community. To learn how Compass Rose Academy can help, visitwww.compassroseacademy.org.
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