The committee began its work by looking closely at the behaviors, needs, and circumstances of adolescents in the United States. We recognized from the beginning that the health and well-being of young people across the country is uneven. Some are doing quite well; others are doing very poorly.
The current cohort of adolescents presents a confusing mix of good and bad news. The good news is very good indeed—many measures of adolescent well-being and behavior have shown significant progress over the past 20 years.
More youth than ever are graduating from high school, and a large number are enrolled in some form of higher education (Ekston et al., 1987). High school dropout rates, although still unacceptably large for some population subgroups, are at all-time lows (National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2001; Ekston et al., 1987).
In 1998, the rate for serious violent crimes committed by juveniles had dropped by more than half since 1993 and was the lowest it had been since the first data collection efforts in 1973 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999). From 1991 to 1997 the percentage of students in grades 9 through 12 who reported carrying a weapon at least once in the past month declined from 26 to 18 percent (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999).
Between 40 and 50 percent of high school seniors report having participated in a volunteer or community-based service program at least a few times in the previous year (Institute for Social Research, 1999).
In 1999, 70 percent of high school students reported engaging in vigorous physical activity in the previous week, and over half of all high school students were enrolled in high school physical education classes (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2000b). The use of illicit drugs by youth ages 12 to 17 has declined over the past three years, from a high of 11 percent in 1997 to 9 percent in 1999 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999). Sexual activity has, on average, declined among teens and contraceptive use has increased (National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2001). Furthermore, the overall rate of babies born to adolescents dropped by a third between 1991 and 1998, and in 1998 the birth rate for 15- to 17-year-olds was the lowest