How we should invest in adolescent health, from a scientific perspective

Through scientific advances, we are understanding better and better how adolescents develop, and how we can most effectively invest in the future of their health. In a paper written for Nature journal, Ahna Ballonoff Suleiman—an A360 partner and the Coordinating Director for the University of California, Berkeley's Center on Adolescent Development—reinforces the dynamism behind how quickly adolescents mature, and the opportunities this presents to invest in the future of their health, education, social and economic success.

As the paper notes:

The developmental science of adolescence is providing new insights into windows of opportunity during which we can have especially strong positive impacts on trajectories of health, education, social and economic success across the lifespan.

This emerging science points towards adolescence as a time of enhanced growth and a sensitive period for learning—one in which adolescents’ sensitivity to belonging, feeling valued and respected and finding a way to make a valued contribution (that is, to earn prestige and admiration) is also linked to adolescents’ search for meaning and larger purpose. This social and affective learning can shape the development of ‘heartfelt’ goals and priorities, such as those associated with experiences of inspiration, creativity and innovation.

Given current global changes, and the specific challenges affecting adolescents, there is a compelling need to understand the potential for strategic investments in adolescents to unleash this potential. From a global perspective, strategic investment of very limited resources, and the potential acceleration of economic inequalities and amplification of vulnerabilities and opportunities by the information technology revolution, makes the integration of insights from developmental science into public policy even more compelling. The stakes of investing in adolescents are rapidly increasing— especially if we are going to create sustainable growth, address climate change and reduce social inequalities—all problems that are critical for the achievement of the United Nations sustainable development goals. Strategic and developmentally informed investments in adolescents could contribute to a positive impact on the adolescents themselves, their future lives as leaders in adult society, and the next generation to whom they will be parents.

Read the full review here.

Emma Beck