Vulnerable Adolescents

Adolescence is a transitional stage of physical and psychological development that generally occurs during the period from puberty to legal adulthood (11-17).  This is often referred to as the teenage years.  In terms of child development, the period of adolescence is recognised as being one of major change – physical, cognitive, social and psychodynamic, when a key goal for an individual is ‘discovery of self’ (Scannapieco and Connell- Carrick, 2005).

A powerful combination of biological, psychological and social changes make adolescents more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviours than children or adults, and these changes contribute both to opportunities for healthy growth and the risk of negative outcomes (Calkins, 2010).  Experimentation and impulsive behaviour are part of normal teenage experience. With support, most young people navigate these challenges and emerge as healthily functioning adults. However, the interaction of individual, family and environmental factors can greatly increase a young person’s vulnerability to risk and the potentially adverse consequences of risk-taking.

The range and nature of adolescent risks are different to those facing younger and older age groups……… Adolescents are exposed to a wider range of risks than younger children. At age 14 they are most at risk of entering the realm of ‘polyvictimisation’ – i.e. being the victim of many different types of maltreatment.  Ten per cent of 11 to 17-year-olds in the UK have experienced 12 or more forms of maltreatment during their lifetime.”

Furthermore, as young people get older, their experiences of abuse are often associated with public spaces in which they spend their time.  As such, there needs to be an improved focus on how young people can be better protected and supported by a wider range of individuals and bodies in a wider variety of contexts.  Such public environments include those in the virtual world too.   In this respect, how young people are safeguarded in the context of their ‘access to technology and their use of social media’ is an underpinning concept to this approach.

Are you worried about a child or young person? Call the NSPCC child exploitation helpline for free on 0808 800 5000, email or text on 88858. You can remain anonymous if you wish.