Adolescents, who are neither children nor adults, stand with a foot in each world (childhood and adulthood). Their intellectual and emotional development is greater than that of young children, yet they are not fully mature. By age 14, their basic cognitive skills are substantially similar to what they will be in adulthood, although they lack the experience of adults. They are likely to have a well-developed set of preferences and a set of moral values. Risk taking is a natural part of teenagers' lives. They need to take some risks in order to grow, trying new activities, generating new ideas, experimenting with new roles. However, they can also get into trouble with their risk taking when it involves behaviors such as sex, drinking, smoking, violence, and drug use. Concern over such "risk behaviors" has led to the creation of many interventions, based to varying degrees on the growing scientific literature on adolescent development. Some of these interventions have attempted to manipulate teenagers' beliefs, values, and behaviors, hoping to get them to act more cautiously. Other interventions have attempted to improve their ability to make sensible decisions, hoping to get them to make wise choices on their own. Having general decision-making skills might enable teenagers to protect themselves in many situations. By talking openly to teenagers about different aspects of relationships, by discussing the potential long-term implication of early sexual involvement, and by teaching adolescents to think critically about what they see and hear, parents can empower their teens to deal with challenges and adverse influences.
Adolescence is frequently described as a time of engaging in risk-taking behaviors. In 1996, 45 percent of high school senior students reported having tried marijuana, 30 percent reported being drunk in the past two weeks, and 22 percent reported smoking cigarettes daily (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1997). Nearly two-thirds of U.S. teenagers reported initiation of sexual intercourse prior to high school graduation (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1996), and they experience a high number of sexually transmitted diseases (Institute of Medicine, 1996) and unintended pregnancies (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1997). Adolescents are involved in a disproportionate number of automobile accidents (National Committee for Injury Prevention and Control, 1989). In the past 10 years, violence among adolescents has increased to the point that homicide is the second leading cause of death among young people (Singh et al., 1996). The latest in a long line of studies affirming the role of parents and families in adolescents' life choices is by Resnick et al. (1997), who review adolescent risk behaviors that pose the main threat to adolescents' health. The objective of their study was to identify risk and protective factors at the family, school, and individual levels as they relate to four domains of adolescent health and morbidity: emotional health, violence, substance use, and sexuality. Epidemiological data collected over the past two decades show that adolescents and young adults generally exhibit higher rates of experimental use and substance use disorders (SUDs) than older adults and that adult SUDs typically have onsets in adolescence or young adulthood. They usually begin smoking between the ages 11 and 17 and 60 percent before age 14. Fifty percent of illicit drug abuse in adults with SUDs begins between the ages of 15 and 18 and initiation is rare after the age of 20. Similarly, clinical evidence confirms that adolescence is a period of particular vulnerability.
Although many studies have shown that family and socio-cultural factors (e.g., parental drug use, school engagement, parental concern and monitoring, stress, religiosity, peer group deviancy), are associated with drug availability and experimentation, these...