Summary

On January 25, 1996, the Committee on Youth Development of the Board on Children, Youth, and Families convened a workshop to examine the implications of research on social settings for the design and evaluation of programs that serve youth. The January workshop provided an opportunity for the committee to examine the strengths and limitations of existing research on interactions between social settings and adolescent development. This research has drawn attention to the importance of understanding how, when, and where adolescents interact with their families, peers, and unrelated adults in settings such as home, school, places of work, and recreational sites. This workshop builds on previous work of the National Research Council and reiterates its support for integrating studies of social settings into more traditional research on individual characteristics, family functioning, and peer relationships in seeking to describe and explain adolescent behavior and youth outcomes.

Not only does this report examine the strengths and limitations of research on social settings and adolescence and identify important research questions that deserve further study in developing this field, but it also explores alternative methods by which the findings of research on social settings could be better integrated into the development of youth programs and services. Specific themes include the impact of social settings on differences in developmental pathways, role expectations, and youth identity and decision-making skills, as well as factors that contribute to variations in community context.

Although the workshop participants agreed on the importance of social settings as key factors that affect youth development, they conceded that research is just beginning to consider the difficult problems of defining, measuring, and



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--> Summary On January 25, 1996, the Committee on Youth Development of the Board on Children, Youth, and Families convened a workshop to examine the implications of research on social settings for the design and evaluation of programs that serve youth. The January workshop provided an opportunity for the committee to examine the strengths and limitations of existing research on interactions between social settings and adolescent development. This research has drawn attention to the importance of understanding how, when, and where adolescents interact with their families, peers, and unrelated adults in settings such as home, school, places of work, and recreational sites. This workshop builds on previous work of the National Research Council and reiterates its support for integrating studies of social settings into more traditional research on individual characteristics, family functioning, and peer relationships in seeking to describe and explain adolescent behavior and youth outcomes. Not only does this report examine the strengths and limitations of research on social settings and adolescence and identify important research questions that deserve further study in developing this field, but it also explores alternative methods by which the findings of research on social settings could be better integrated into the development of youth programs and services. Specific themes include the impact of social settings on differences in developmental pathways, role expectations, and youth identity and decision-making skills, as well as factors that contribute to variations in community context. Although the workshop participants agreed on the importance of social settings as key factors that affect youth development, they conceded that research is just beginning to consider the difficult problems of defining, measuring, and

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--> assessing such influences. There is a need to combine qualitative and quantitative research, foster the creation of multiple data sources, encourage the development of theoretical research and longitudinal studies, identify different patterns of behavior associated with ethnic and cultural practices, and develop forums to sustain collaboration among researchers, practitioners, and program sponsors. This report describes an emerging focus in research on youth development, identifies key topics that deserve further analysis in shaping a research agenda for this field, and emphasizes the need for continued dialogue to draw on the expertise of research scientists and community leaders in designing new programs to enhance outcomes for youth.