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Risks and Opportunities: Synthesis of Studies on Adolescence
INCREASING NUMBERS AND GROWING DIVERSITY
As discussed earlier in this report, the size and composition of the adolescent population is expected to change dramatically during the coming decades—i.e., there will be more adolescents than ever before. Moreover, white teenagers will no longer be the majority group, and Hispanic teenagers will outnumber black teenagers. Now is the time to ask if current systems and policies are prepared to respond to these changes. Are private and public institutions and systems (e.g., education, employment, housing, transportation, and health) prepared to respond to these trends? How will institutions and systems need to be redesigned to respond appropriately? How can a national youth policy agenda be developed to ensure the health and well-being of this segment of the population?
With this increase in diversity, coupled with worldwide patterns of increased mobility and migration, cooperative relations among different racial and ethnic groups are essential to the nation's future. Yet there is growing evidence to suggest that white youth and youth from ethnic minority groups hold deeply divergent views on how to relate to each other. The harmful results of this racial divide among youth are becoming more apparent as demonstrated by an alarming increase of adolescent hate crimes, organized hate groups, and overt expressions of racial intolerance.
Research is needed to characterize how youth derive a sense of belonging and personal meaning from their ethnic and other affiliations, as well as on how youth understand, interpret, and experience such constructs as race, ethnicity, racism, and all other forms of discrimination. While there is growing evidence that strategies can be crafted to create positive intergroup relations, there is little agreement regarding what intervention strategies are essential to promote peaceful, respectful relations or to prevent conflict and violence among youth stemming from ethnic identity. Certainly, ethnicity is not the only defining characteristic of teenagers. They also differ from one another according to their physical, cognitive, and learning abilities; body shape and size; religious and political beliefs and values; sexual orientation; and interests and expressions of creativity. Future efforts are needed to encourage and support enduring changes in the ways that teenagers relate and interact with their peers who are different from themselves. As a society, the goal should be to help young people promote peaceful, respectful relations among all youth.