Statement: Make Adolescence a Research Priority in the New NICHD Strategic Plan

To the NICHD Strategic Working Group:

As the Leadership Team of the Center for the Developing Adolescent, we urge NICHD to make adolescent development a top research priority in your revised strategic plan.

The physical, socio-emotional, and cognitive changes that occur during adolescence create a second key period of rapid growth and development similar in importance to the first few years of life. The onset of puberty marks the beginning of a sensitive period during which young lives can change rapidly, shaping health, education, economic success, and social and emotional well-being. Adolescence is also a key window of opportunity for learning, developing heartfelt goals, and finding meaning and purpose. But the same sensitivities that underpin these opportunities also open the door to increased risk for death and disability through accidents, suicide, violence, sexually transmitted diseases, and unwanted pregnancies.

The developmental science of adolescence holds great promise for understanding the modifiable processes and mechanisms at work during this period. A more precise understanding of these processes—especially when combined with psychological, social, clinical, and public health perspectives—could identify the most effective timing and types of interventions to promote lifelong health and well-being.

Making adolescence a strategic priority for NICHD research will yield triple benefits: to adolescents, to the adults they will become, and to their future children.

We recommend that NICHD take a leadership role into research on adolescent development, focusing on themes including the following examples:

  • Developing and implementing interventions that promote successful parenting of adolescents
  • Ensuring that the next generation of developmental cognitive neuroscience considers the role of social context and environment on outcomes for adolescents
  • Reexamining adolescent-focused interventions using a developmental science lens (i.e., understanding which interventions are most effective at different phases of adolescent development)
  • Characterizing healthy romantic behaviors and relationships in adolescence to foster sexual and mental health during this period and beyond
  • Exploring changes in cognitive and social learning during adolescence that promote educational and interpersonal goals as well as general well-being
  • Adapting interventions that improve adolescent sleep to account for biological and lifestyle changes that occur during adolescence (e.g., school start times, increased nighttime use of smartphones and other technology)
  • Deepening our understanding of how adolescents use digital technology and social media, the positive and negative consequences of different patterns of use, and potential interventions to develop healthy social media use habits

NICHD can drive the next generation of research into developmental science toward the best way to invest in the adolescent years. We urge NICHD to make basic and applied research on adolescence a top priority in its new strategic plan.



The Leadership Team of the Center for the Developing Adolescent

Adriana Galván, PhD
University of California, Los Angeles

Ron Dahl, PhD
University of California, Berkeley

Jennifer Pfeifer, PhD
University of Oregon

Andrew Fuligni, PhD
University of California, Los Angeles

Nicholas Allen, PhD
University of Oregon

Linda Wilbrecht, PhD
University of California, Berkeley

Posted on November 6, 2018