Young adolescents face significant turning points. For many youth 10 to 15 years old, early adolescence offers opportunities to choose a path toward a productive and fullfilling life. For many others, it represents their last best chance to avoid a diminished future.
-- Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development ( 1989, p. 8)
The choices that adolescents make about peer relations, risky behavior, investment in school, and income-producing activities set the stage for subsequent development in later adolescence and into adulthood. Moreover, at the aggregate level, these choices have tremendous implications for the quality of life in such key social contexts as families, schools, neighborhoods, and communities. Thus, the pathways that young people follow through adolescence and beyond affect us all. Adolescents' choices, however, are not made in a vacuum; these social contexts provide opportunities -- or obstacles -- that influence the probability that adolescents will choose certain pathways and not others. Therefore, understanding these critical choices, and the ways in which they affect and are affected by social contexts, is of great importance both for developmental research and scholarship and for the creation of effective programs and policies focused on youth.
In October 1992, an interdisciplinary group of scholars convened at the Pennsylvania State University to discuss these issues, share findings and methodological approaches, and consider the implications of the various findings for programs and policies. Entitled "The Impact of Social Contexts on Adolescent Trajectories," the conference was organized to address two cutting-edge issues in the field of adolescence: (a) the emergence and crys-