At-Risk Behavior

By Prof Rebecca P. Ang
Psychology and Child & Human Development Academic Group, NIE, NTU
Published: 20 February 2023


Overview of At-Risk Behavior

At risk behaviors cover a tremendously broad scope including a range of behavioral and emotional disorders as well as conditions that warrant attention but do not necessarily result in a clinically diagnosable condition. Broadly, developmental child and adolescent psychopathology includes some disorders that are more externalizing in nature such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder or Conduct Disorder, and other disorders that are more internalizing in nature such as Anxiety and Depression (Mash & Dozois, 2003). Equally important for our consideration under “at risk behaviors” would be conditions and problems that either do not meet diagnostic criteria or are not necessarily viewed from a clinical perspective but could nevertheless negatively impact children’s and adolescents’ mental health and wellbeing (e.g., Ang, Huan, Chua, & Lim, 2012; Edmondson, Brennan, & House, 2016; Ng, Ang, & Ho, 2012). For this reason, it is also vital to include and understand such conditions and experiences. More recently, there has been a renewed emphasis on mental health and wellbeing needs of children, adolescents, and their families. At this stage of childhood and adolescence, parents and other caregivers, teachers, and peers are crucial socialization agents, and play a key role in influencing the behavioral and emotional trajectories of children and adolescents (Swearer & Espelage, 2011). The contexts which buffer and mitigate the development of these at risk behaviors are also worthy of investigation. 


In Practice

In Singapore, children and adolescents who struggle with a range of difficulties, are naturally serviced by different ministries and agencies, depending on the nature of the condition, the severity of the issue and their age, among other factors. For example, it is not uncommon to see children and adolescents, and their families, interface with various ministries like Ministry of Education (MOE), Ministry of Health (MOH), and Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), or social service agencies. Some gaps have been observed and in August 2021, at the national level, an Interagency Taskforce on Mental Health and Wellbeing chaired by Senior Minister of State, Dr Janil Puthucheary, was set up to address certain important key issues (Ministry of Health, 2021). One such issue is the need for an overarching whole-of-government approach towards the development of a National Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy for the population, and to guide and align the individual efforts of various ministries and agencies. This is a positive and needed development which holds much promise.  



Children and adolescents do not develop in a vacuum. They are necessarily embedded in multiple contexts, and they influence and are influenced by others in their proximal and distal environments across time. Just as risk factors do not exist in isolation, protective factors are also distributed across systems, and it is particularly helpful to approach prevention and intervention work with children and adolescents using systems thinking and a systems framework. 




Ang, R. P., Huan, V. S., Chua, S. H., & Lim, S. H. (2012). Gang affiliation, aggression, and violent offending in a sample of youth offenders. Psychology Crime & Law, 18, 703-711.

Edmondson, A. J., Brennan, C. A., & House, A. O. (2016). Non-suicidal reasons for self-harm: A systematic review of self-reported accounts. Journal of Affective Disorders, 191, 109-117.

Mash, E. J., & Dozois, D. J. A. (2003). Child psychopathology: A developmental systems perspective. In E. J. Mash & R. A. Barkley (Eds)., Child psychopathology (2nd ed., pp. 3-74). New York: Guilford Press.

Ministry of Health, Singapore. (2021, August 23). COVID-19 Mental Wellness Taskforce proposes recommendations to enhance national mental health strategy [Press release].

Ng, R., Ang, R. P., & Ho, M. H. R. (2012). Coping with anxiety, depression, anger and aggression: The mediational role of resilience in adolescents. Child & Youth Care Forum, 41, 529-546.

Swearer, S.M., & Espelage, D.L. (2011). Expanding the social-ecological framework of bullying among youth: Lessons learned from the past and directions for the future. In D.L. Espelage & S.M. Swearer, (Eds.). Bullying in North American schools (2nd ed, pp. 3-10). NY: Routledge.  



Ang, R. P. (2023, February 20). What do we know about At Risk Behaviors. Child and Human Development, Life@NIE SG®.