Focus on the Family

Factor This In

Every child has a mix of risk factors and protective factors in his or her life which determine the potential threat of drugs and alcohol entering a child's life.

by Glenn Williams

In recent years there has been a significant amount of research highlighting both risk factors and protective factors for young people regarding decisions they might make in critical areas of life, including whether to use drugs or alcohol.1 The fact is, every child has a mix of risk factors as well as protective factors in his or her life. These determine the potential threat of drugs and alcohol entering a child's life. Let's take a look at both kinds of factors and why it is helpful for you to understand how they interact in your child's life.

Risk factors. These are things that put a child at risk of making poor decisions or engaging in unhealthy behaviors. Risk factors for children include:

When factors such as the ones listed above touch a child's life, that child is much more at risk of making a poor decision in regard to drinking and drug use. Add to this mounting pressure from his peers, and it becomes even tougher for a child to make the right decision.

Therefore, as a parent, one of your top priorities must be to try to minimize the presence of these risk factors, better preparing your child for the challenges he'll face as he moves into adolescence and beyond.

Protective factors. These are things that help children achieve developmental milestones relative to their age and therefore be more resilient when negative influences appear. Some protective factors include the following:

Although children with more risk factors are at risk of engaging in drug use or other problem behaviors, it doesn't mean they will automatically engage in high-risk activities. The presence of protective factors can balance and buffer the risk factors.

At a time when your child may be going through many changes and stresses, building these protective factors into your home life and relationship with your child will help her to be stronger when facing the challenges of adolescence. That's why it's important to understand and respond to the factors that are influencing your child.

And that's still not all. I've saved the most important truth for last.



Tips for Building Protective Factors

Consider these practical ways you can be intentional in building protective factors into your child's life:


1Raymond P. Daugherty and Carl Leukfeld, Reducing the Risks for Substance Abuse: A Lifespan Approach (New York: Plenum, 1998).