Being, Belonging, Becoming: Minnesota's Adolescent Health Action Plan

Risk and Protective Factors

There are a multitude of factors, both positive and negative, that influence the health and well-being of adolescents.

Photo of a teenager jumping thru the air.

Risk factors are elements that raise the odds that a poor outcome will occur and diminish the likelihood of successful development. While they do not predict or guarantee an outcome, risk factors threaten the health and well-being of youth.

Protective factors have a positive influence. They are elements that moderate or buffer against hazards and stressors. Protective factors do not eliminate risk but moderate it. Risk and protective factors interact together to influence the health of youth.

It is not just the presence of factors but more importantly the complex balance and interplay between them that affects health.

Spheres of Influence

To better understand the affect of risk and protective factors, they can be organized within spheres of influence:

Individual Adolescent (Youth)

There are factors within the individual adolescent that affect the young person’s health and well-being. Some factors are biologically determined while others are social in nature, including a young person’s view of self, their attitudes and beliefs, their sense of future and their ability to interact socially with others.


Family plays a critical role in the health and well-being of adolescents. Teens supported by a caring family are most likely to develop in healthy ways and less likely to engage in problem behaviors. Young people who grow up surrounded by family discord, conflict, instability and lack of supervision are at higher risk for poor health outcomes.


The influence of peers on health can be direct (attitudes and behaviors of peers) or indirect (a young person’s perception of their peer group’s attitudes and behaviors).


School has a powerful influence on the health and well-being of adolescents. Young people who feel connected to school are less likely to be involved in problem behaviors. Adolescents who struggle in school (being old for grade, being retained in grade, failing in school, dropping out) tend to be at higher risk for problem behaviors.


Young people who feel a sense of belonging to a community that offers support and opportunity are fostered to grow and develop in healthy ways. This support can be provided through caring adults, community organizations, faith communities, other community institutions, and opportunities for authentic involvement. Youth surrounded by communities characterized by poverty, chaos, disconnection and violence tend to be at higher risk for problem behaviors and poor outcomes.