tensive research over the past generation that has strived to identify the behaviors that predispose to negative health status both in the short term (during the teenage years) and long term (in adulthood). This stream of research, as Jessor (1991) notes, integrates behavioral epidemiology and social psychology. Over the past 25 years, it first proposed various theoretical frameworks. More recently it has marshaled the empirical data that support our understanding of how behaviors are interrelated, the factors that influence health risk behavior participation, and the factors associated with avoiding the same behaviors.
One problem that has complicated the research is the lack of a commonly agreed-on language. Specifically, we use the concept of “risk” in two distinctly different ways. One refers to risk-taking behaviors (e.g., smoking, drinking and driving, and unprotected sexual intercourse), which in themselves predispose to negative health outcomes (though in themselves they are not synonymous with the negative health outcomes such as emphysema, vehicular injury, and sexually transmitted diseases). Concurrently, we refer to the “at-risk” adolescent, which in our society too often is code for demographic “disadvantage” (e.g., minority status, poverty, and single-parent families). “At risk” may also refer to other disadvantage. As Rutter (1993), Garmezy (1987), Werner and Smith (1982), and others have shown, disadvantage may be biologic (e.g., diabetes), genetic (e.g., Trisomy 21), familial (e.g., mental illness), social (e.g., violent neighborhoods), or peer related (e.g., antisocial behaviors).
For the current paper, we refer to “vulnerability” as an interactive process between the social contexts in which a young person lives and a set of underlying factors that, when present, place the young person “at risk” for negative outcomes (e.g., school failure, unanticipated pregnancy, injury). Factors predisposing to vulnerability may be biologic (e.g., chronic illness) or cognitive (e.g., how risk is assessed). Vulnerabilities may result from being reared in disadvantaged environments such as in substance-abusing families, abusive/violent environments, or families with mental illness, and it can result from individual characteristics such as aggressive temperament.
Counter balancing such vulnerabilities are the resources (Patterson et al., 1990), assets (Benson, 1997), protective factors (Blum, 1998), and resilience (Masten et al. 1999) that likewise arise from the individual, familial, and social environments in which a young person lives. For example, individual characteristics that repeatedly have been found to be protective include social skills, intelligence, and a belief in a higher power beyond