Adolescent Biology, Poverty and Risk

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Poverty: Global Perspectives, Challenges and Issues of the 21st Century


Nova Science Publishers, Inc.

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As American adolescents have become more racially diverse in recent decades, their behaviors have improved dramatically. The latest statistics show rates of crime, violence, drug abuse, gun fatality, and other violent outcomes among adolescents have fallen sharply to levels below those of middle-aged adults. In short, U.S. teenagers are no longer a risky or “crime prone” population. Ignoring massive youthful improvements and rising middle-aged problems (including crime), major foundations and interest groups are resurrecting century-old notions that crime, violence, deadly and injurious behaviors, and other risk-taking are innate, internal features of adolescence driven by “teenage brain” biology and development. Revived biodeterminist theories now being reformulated into an “integrated theory of adolescence” pretend to scientific basis but actually represent crude holdovers from a racist past. These theories ignore crucial external factors such as widespread adolescent poverty, unemployment, and systemic racism, repeating a centuries-old failing of political, medical, and academic authorities whose misuse of assumed biological and cultural inferiorities to designate “savage races” fostered policies that threatened their social and economic viability. Even today, only a fledgling literature analyzes adolescent and adult risk behaviors within the context that American young people suffer poverty levels two to three times higher than middle-agers overall and within each race and locale. That adolescent risk is a feature of poverty and related external disadvantages rather than biological, developmental, racial, or cultural inferiority has profound implications. Growing, long-term evidence suggests such age-based restrictions either have no tangible effects or prevent adolescents from acquiring vital experience, resulting in greater risks when they reach young adulthood, as well as potentially severe effects on their employment. Strategies to redress adolescent poverty and unemployment and enhance youth rights beginning with the voting franchise are likely to prove the most effective means of improving their safety and well-being. © 2016 by Nova Science Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.