Hilton, Ford Foundations Help Support Research for New Report: The Promise of Adolescence: Realizing Opportunity for All Youth

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Hilton, Ford Foundations Help Support Research for New Report: The Promise of Adolescence: Realizing Opportunity for All Youth

WASHINGTON – The changes in brain structure and connectivity that occur between the ages of 10 and 25 present adolescents with unique opportunities for positive, life-shaping development, and for recovering from past adversity, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The Promise of Adolescence: Realizing Opportunity for All Youth provides recommendations for capitalizing on these opportunities, and for addressing inequities – in education, health care, child welfare, and the juvenile justice system – that undermine the well-being of many adolescents and leave them less able to take advantage of the promise offered by this stage of life.

“The adolescent brain undergoes a remarkable transformation that underpins amazing advances in learning and creativity,” said Richard Bonnie, Harrison Foundation Professor of Medicine and Law and director of the Institute of Law, Psychiatry, and Public Policy at the University of Virginia, and chair of the committee that wrote the report. “As a society, we bear a collective obligation to unleash the creativity of the adolescent brain while cushioning adolescents from experiences that could endanger their future well-being.”

Adolescents make up nearly one-fourth of the U.S. population. While the malleable brains of adolescents are adaptable to learning and innovation, they are also vulnerable to detrimental exposures, ranging from alcohol or drug use to the stresses of growing up in dangerous neighborhoods.  Adolescents also face varied access to opportunities and supports, which contributes to long-standing disparities measurable by race and ethnicity, socio-economic status, LGBTQ status, and ability status.  “Too many adolescents are being left behind at this critical stage of development because their families, schools, and neighborhoods lack the resources they need to overcome adversity and flourish,” Bonnie observed. “We need to close the opportunity gap among adolescents in our country.”

Differences in opportunity are associated with striking differences in adolescent outcomes. For example, the report says poor children develop more chronic conditions as they age compared with their counterparts, and black youth ages 10 to 24 have mortality rates roughly 50 percent higher than white and Latino youth, driven mainly by differences in rates of death by homicide.  In education, 19 percent of black students are proficient in math compared with 51 percent of white students and 26 percent of Latino students.  In the juvenile justice system, black youth are detained at a rate six times higher than white youth and three times higher than Latino youth...

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