families. Youth from poor inner-city and rural areas are doing substantially worse on national achievement tests than youth from more affluent school districts. School dropout is particularly high among Hispanic youth and adolescents living in poor communities. Many young women and men are engaging in unsafe sex, exposing them to sexually transmitted infections. Smoking cigarettes, obesity, and gun violence on school campuses have all increased.
All young people need a variety of experiences to develop to their full potential. All youth need an array of experiences to reduce risk-taking and promote both current well-being and successful transition into adulthood. Such experiences include opportunities to learn skills, to make a difference in their community, to interact with youth from multicultural backgrounds, to have experiences in leadership and shared decision making, and to make strong connections with nonfamilial adults. These experiences are important to all young people, regardless of racial or ethnic group, socioeconomic status, or special needs.
Some young people have unmet needs and are particularly at risk of participating in problem behaviors. Young people who have the most severe unmet needs in their lives are particularly in jeopardy of participating in risk behaviors, such as dropping out of school, participating in violent behavior, or using drugs and alcohol. Young people with the most severe unmet needs often live in very poor and high-risk neighborhoods with few opportunities to get the critical experiences needed for positive development. They are often experience repeated racial and ethnic discrimination. Such youth have a substantial amount of free, unsupervised time during their nonschool hours. Other youth who are in special need of more programs include youth with disabilities of all kinds, youth from troubled family situations, and youth with special needs for places to find emotional support.
Understanding adolescent development and the factors contributing to the healthy development of all young people is critical to the design and implementation of community programs for youth. A priority of the committee’s work was identifying what is necessary for adolescents to be happy, healthy, and productive at the present time, as well as successful, contributing adults in the future.
Adolescence is a time of great change: biological changes associated with puberty, major social changes associated with transitions between