Research highlight

Coming of age: The science of adolescence


February 22, 2018

The often-paradoxical nature of adolescence - a time both of risk and vulnerability, and of peak growth and potential - is explored in a package of articles published in ten journals in the Nature Research family and in Scientific American this week.

Introducing the special, Nature remarks that we have a long way to go in understanding adolescence itself. The concept of puberty does not capture the decade or more of transformative physical, neural, cognitive and socio-emotional growth that young people undergo. Moreover, science, medicine and policy have often focused on childhood and adulthood, glossing over the years in between. Yet understanding adolescents and adolescence is crucial: today’s teenagers are projected to make up the largest generation in human history so far, and health and well-being in adolescence set the trajectory for the rest of a person’s life.

In a Perspective in Nature, Nicholas Allen, Ronald Dahl and colleagues argue that adolescence is a physical, cognitive and social growth spurt, and so provides a unique window of opportunity for intervention.In an analysis of the latest data on global health burdens, George Patton and colleagues explore the health challenges facing young people around the world, and the effects those could have on the next generation.

In Nature’s Comment section, Candice Odgers examines the evidence suggesting that young people who are already vulnerable offline seem to experience greater negative effects of life online. “What we’re seeing now may be the emergence of a new kind of digital divide, in which differences in online experiences are amplifying risks among already vulnerable adolescents,” she argues.

Also part of the package in this week’s Nature is a News Feature that explores the biological and social phenomena used to define adolescence, and how these boundaries are in flux. Another News Feature describes how neuroscientists are rethinking the role of risk-taking, as evidence emerges that it can be a useful strategy for those moving into adulthood. In a second Comment piece, Jo Boyden and Robert Blum stress the importance of understanding the everyday lives of adolescents in low- and middle-income countries, where 90% of the world’s 10- to 24-year-olds now live. Beth Stevens appraises the Feinberg hypothesis in an In Retrospect article (a subtype of a News and Views expert commentary), which posits that abnormal synaptic pruning in adolescence leads to schizophrenia. Finally, a Careers Feature weighs up the pros and cons for scientists of bringing high-school students into the lab.

Full details of the contact details for the authors of papers involved in this special issue can be found on the Nature Research press site. For further information about the other content in the special, please contact the Nature Research press office.

Original article

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-02168-x

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