and meaningful job or career. Racial relations and poverty are special concerns. These are some components of the burden of vulnerability perceived by adolescents in the United States, which might contribute to their participation in risky behaviors such as unsafe sexual activity, alcohol or drug intoxication, risky driving, and more (Fischhoff et al., 1998; Lindberg et al., 2000).
Adolescents today face complex and changing environments in which many things can go right and wrong. If we are to serve and protect them, we must have a full appreciation of these environments as well as society’s opportunities to shape them. Research that can conceptualize, measure, and evaluate the total burden of adolescent vulnerability is sorely needed. New research approaches must be designed to explore as comprehensively as possible the complexities of coexisting risk and protective factors in particular settings as well as variations in the ways adolescent perceive their own vulnerability. Without such knowledge, practitioners are in a poor position to design the best possible programs to facilitate healthy adolescent development and well-being, and policy makers lack the research-based information that can inform their decisions.
Previous approaches to risk taking in young people include a developmental psychosocial model (Levitt et al., 1991). This model encompasses three elements: knowledge about the risk, management skills to deal with it, and the personal meaning of the risk, all within a developmental perspective. The developmental changes in the personal meaning of risks are of particular relevance here.
In a recent review of research on programmatic investments in young people of various ages, Danziger and Waldfogel (2000) demonstrated that early childhood investments pay off for children as they develop. What is also clear from this volume is the need to invest in children as they get older, particularly during adolescence, in which young people experience multiple transitions such as new school environments and changing peer and family dynamics. This volume also documents the lack of systematic research on investments in adolescents that could support policy and practice that better meet the needs of youngsters 10 to 18 years of age.
Of central importance to filling this research gap is to reconceptualize approaches that could deal effectively with the complexity of adolescent vulnerabilities by capturing both the total burden of vulnerability of youth