Abstract This study of over 36000 7th-12th grade students focused on protective factors against the quietly disturbed and acting out behaviours, which together represent the major social morbidities of adolescence. Multivariate models developed separately for girls and boys repeatedly demonstrated the protective function of caring and connectedness in the lives of youth, particularly a sense of connectedness to family and to school. A sense of spirituality, as well as low family stress (referring to poverty, unemployment, substance use and domestic violence) also functioned as protective factors. Measures of caring and connectedness surpassed demographic variables such as two parent vs single parent family structure as protective factors against high risk behaviours. Interventions for youth at-risk must critically examine the ways in which opportunities for a sense of belonging may be fostered, particularly among youth who do not report any significant caring relationships in their lives with adults.