In the United States, the level of challenge for adolescents is especially high for noncollege-bound youth and for members of several ethnic minority groups, particularly blacks and Hispanics, for at least two reasons: (1) unlike many European and Asian industrialized countries, there is very little institutional support for the transition from secondary school to work in the United States, creating what the W.T.Grant Foundation labeled a “floundering” period (W.T.Grant Commission on Work, Family and Citizenship, 2000; see also Rosenbaum et al., 1992) and (2) stereotypes about the competence of blacks and Hispanics, coupled with lower levels of “soft skills” (e.g., the ability to communicate effectively, resolve conflicts, and prepare for and succeed in a job interview) (Murnane and Levy, 1996) and the loss of employment options in many inner-city communities (Wilson, 1987), have made employment for these youth (particularly males) quite problematic.
Coupled with these changes in the complexity of the adult world into which today’s youth will be moving are the widespread risks confronting them. In the United States, the use of and access to drugs and alcohol has increased. Nearly 90 percent of 10th graders and 75 percent of 8th graders think that alcohol is either “fairly easy” or “very easy” to get (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1996). “Rave drugs,” such as the synthetic psychoactive drug called ecstasy, have become popular at nightclubs, rock concerts, and late-night parties, particularly in urban and suburban neighborhoods and among white middle-class young adults. Ecstasy has become the most frequently mentioned drug in telephone calls to the Poison Control Center (Partnership for Family Involvement, 2000). A review of top-selling popular songs found alcohol mentioned in 47 percent of rap music lyrics (Roberts et al., 1999). In recent television programs, 9 out of 10 drinkers of alcohol are portrayed as either experiencing no effects at all or only positive personal and social outcomes from their alcohol consumption (Gerbner, 1996).
Adolescents are surrounded by a culture of violence. In America, young people are being exposed to increasing amounts of media violence, especially in television, movies, video games, and youth-oriented music. By age 18, the average young person will have viewed an estimated 200,000 acts of violence on television alone (Huston et al., 1992). Youth gangs have grown considerably in the last two decades. The incidence of gangs in schools has almost doubled from 1989 to 1995 (Howell and Lynch, 2000). This presence of gangs in schools has been linked with increased gun possession among adolescents; students reported knowing a classmate who has brought a gun to school at a higher per-