Adolescence is a pivotal period for youth to acquire the attitudes, competencies, values, and social connections that will help carry them forward to successful adulthood. As described in Chapter 1, some young people do very well during this time; others experience gaps in their lives that lead to risky and harmful behaviors. Understanding how to characterize positive adolescent development was a fundamental aspect of the committee’s work.

This section has three goals: Chapter 2 provides an overview of adolescent development; Chapter 3 summarizes what is known about the personal and social assets that are likely to be linked to both well-being during adolescence and the transition into adulthood; and Chapter 4 explores what the daily settings and experiences of adolescents need to include in order to promote the acquisition of these assets and function as a positive developmental setting. In our view, a good understanding of these topics is important in the design and evaluation of community programs for youth. These programs are intended to both support positive development and prevent involvement in problematic behaviors likely to mortgage a youth’s future. To accomplish these aspirations, program designers and evaluators need to be guided by what is known about development during adolescence as well as about resilience more generally. They also need to be guided by what is known about the kinds of social experiences that facilitate positive development.

Scientists and program providers have suggested a number of core human needs, attributes, and both personal and social assets that can facilitate adolescents’ present well-being, reduce their risk-taking, and increase the likelihood of their successful future transitions. Development occurs over time, with experiences in the present being critical for both current well-being and future success. From research in this area, the committee developed a set of core concepts:

  • The acquisition of personal and social assets—in the domains of physical, intellectual, psychological and emotional, and social development—leads to positive adolescent development.

  • Adolescents with more personal and social assets in each of these areas have a greater chance of both current well-being and future success.

  • Personal and social assets are enhanced by positive developmental settings.

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