in both sexes. These outcomes include earlier use of alcohol and illegal substances, earlier sexual behavior, higher risk for mental health problems, and increased risk for delinquency (Kaltiala-Heino et al., 2003; Waylen and Wolke, 2004; Deardorff et al., 2005; Bratberg et al., 2007).
Early maturation creates particular risks for girls. Early puberty coupled with stressors such as conflict with parents and involvement with delinquent and often older male peers is a risk factor for delinquency unique to girls (Zahn et al., 2010). Using data from the National Study of Adolescent Health, Haynie (2003) found that earlier puberty among girls was associated with higher levels of delinquency and that conflict with parents, exposure to peer deviance, and involvement in romantic relationships strengthened the link between puberty and delinquency. Furthermore, early onset of puberty among girls continued to predict increased risk behavior into adulthood (Zahn et al., 2010). Unfortunately, the limited number of studies specific to girls’ delinquency that include biological factors precludes any definitive conclusions at this time (Zahn et al., 2010).
THE SOCIAL CONTEXT OF ADOLESCENT DEVELOPMENT
From a developmental perspective, adolescent risk taking and delinquent behavior can be understood as resulting from the interaction between the normal developmental attributes of adolescents described above and the environmental influences to which they are exposed during this key stage of development. There are, of course, substantial individual differences among adolescents, not only in their pace of maturation but also in the type and frequency of risky behavior in which they engage. The likelihood of engaging in risky behavior is correlated with brain activity in anticipation of immediate rewards regardless of age, is highest for adolescents as a group, and varies among adolescents as well as among children and adults. To a large extent, the differences within age groups can be linked to variations in social influences.
With specific reference to delinquency, self-reports indicate that most adolescents engage in some form of delinquent behavior. However, many adolescents do not offend and, among those who do offend, most desist and only a small fraction become persistent offenders who commit crimes against persons or property crime as adults. (See Chapter 1 for a review of the research on heterogeneity of juvenile offending.) Based on decades of research, behavioral and social scientists have identified factors affecting the probability that a youth will offend initially and continue offending during adulthood (Loeber and Farrington, 1998). More broadly, the literature also addresses the factors that promote healthy development and forestall continued offending (Howell, 1995a; Hawkins et al., 1998; Loeber and Farrington, 2000). These factors include the biological characteristics