Although risk behaviours can threaten healthy youth development, reducing risks alone is not sufficient to help youth successfully negotiate adolescence. Promoting protective factors that buffer risk, such as family and school connectedness, community engagement and positive peer support, are also important for helping youth to thrive. Since 1992, the Adolescent Health Surveys conducted by McCreary Centre Society (Vancouver, British Columbia) have monitored both risk behaviours and protective factors among high school students across British Columbia. They have shown that, contrary to media images and community perceptions, the majority of young people are not exposed to risk factors such as violence and abuse; most do not have unprotected sex, drink and drive, use illegal drugs or consider suicide. They have also documented key protective factors that are linked to lower rates of risk behaviours and more positive outcomes, even for youth who face unsafe environments, family problems and other stressors. The shift toward assessing and promoting protective factors is a major paradigm change in adolescent health care, and clinicians can be an important partner with families and schools to foster healthy youth development.
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