American Teens: The Good News

Washington, DC – Negative perceptions abound about adolescents: they are troubled and troubling and we do not know how to enhance their health, behavior and development. In fact, most American adolescents are healthy, good citizens, and free of major mental and behavioral disorders. For those who are not, and for those at risk, much is known about what can be done to enhance their health and development.

Child Trends reviewed more than 1,100 rigorous research studies to determine the factors and programs that can help teens succeed. The findings provide essential information to parents, service providers and policy makers as they work to:

  • prevent teen pregnancy and risky sexual behavior,
  • encourage safe and healthy lifestyles,
  • help teens develop healthy social skills and relationships,
  • educate America’s youth,
  • promote positive mental and emotional health, and
  • encourage teens to vote and volunteer.

Child Trends’ latest Research Brief, Building a Better Teenager: A Summary of “What Works” in Adolescent Development, pulls together the key findings across this research to determine the factors, programs, and approaches that contribute to positive adolescent development. The findings are based on an extensive review of research studies done in partnership with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. View and download this brief at

Key findings from this summary include:

  • Parent/child relationships are key. In addition, strong relationships with siblings, peers and other adults in their communities can influence teens’ choices and attitudes.
  • Supportive relationships trump lectures that simply tell teens “to do” or “not to do” something as a strategy to enhance adolescent development.
  • Teens should be treated as whole people, not just as students, patients or delinquents. They should also be viewed as positive members of their communities, not merely as problems needing to be solved.
  • Programs should engage teens, target desired outcomes and be sure that their programs are well implemented.

“If parents take anything away from this research, it is that they matter in the lives of their teens,” said Kristin A. Moore, Ph.D., president and senior scholar at Child Trends. “The research is clear that parent/child relationships are key to teens’ healthy development. Also, relationships with siblings, peers, teachers, and mentors can be positive and important as well.”

Child Trends’ American Teens series summarizes and “translates” key research and evaluation studies on preventing teen pregnancy, encouraging better eating and exercise habits, promoting mental and emotional health, motivating teens in school, promoting positive social skills and encouraging responsible citizenship.

The series includes a set of What Works tables, a point-and-click resource for the web, on each topic covered by the Research Briefs. The tables give users a quick and easy option to access short, readable summaries or to delve deeply into the research studies. Click here for the interactive What Works tables and the rest of the American Teens series.

The latest trends and statistics about teen-agers in the United States can be found on Child Trends DataBank:

Knight Foundation’s Community Partners Program works in 26 U.S. communities to identify promising approaches to locally identified needs. With Knight funding, several Knight communities are concentrating on improving the lives of children and families and civic engagement. The Child Trends American Teens work helps the communities better identify strategies that might work locally for at-risk youth.

Child Trends, founded in 1979, is an independent, nonpartisan research center dedicated to improving the lives of children and their families by conducting research and providing science-based information to the public and decision-makers.