Concerns about youth are at the center of many policy debates. The future well-being of the country depends on raising a new generation of skilled, competent, and responsible adults. Yet at least 25 percent of adolescents in the United States are at serious risk of not achieving “productive adulthood” and face such risks as substance abuse, adolescent pregnancy, school failure, and involvement with the juvenile justice system. Depending on their circumstances and choices, they may carry those risks into their adult lives. Public investments in programs to counter such trends have grown significantly over the past decade or so. For the most part, these efforts have targeted specific problems and threats to young people. Substantial public health investments have been made to prevent teen smoking, sexually transmitted diseases, and other health risks. Major funding has been allocated to the prevention and control of juvenile delinquency and youth crime.
This report has explored the research and evaluation on adolescent development and community programs for youth. This chapter presents the committee’s primary conclusions and recommendations. We had the task of considering various aspects related to community programs for youth—from developing a general understanding of adolescent development, the needs of youth, and the fundamental nature of these programs, to critically examining the research, evaluation, and data instruments they use. We have organized the conclusions and recommendations around two primary themes: (1) policy and practice and (2) research, evaluation, and data collection.
The committee began its work by drawing up a set of core concepts about adolescents that serve as a foundation for this report.
Some youth are doing very well. The good news for many young people is that many measures of adolescent well-being have shown significant improvement since the late 1980s. Young people are increasingly graduating from high school and enrolling in higher education. Almost half of the high school seniors participate in community service. Most young people are participating in physical exercise. Serious violent crime committed by adolescents, some illicit drug use, and teen pregnancy are down.
Some youth are taking dangerous risks and doing poorly. Some social indicators suggest continuing problems, particularly for minority youth living in poor communities and youth living in poor, single-parent