Purpose: To discuss the frequent failure of the United States (and other countries) to make the types of investment in youth that would increase the future prospects of youth from high-risk backgrounds. I argue that these investments are worth making, and describe the types of research and knowledge dissemination that will be necessary to promote such investments.
Approach: I begin with a framework for thinking about and working with adolescents. I review theories of youth development, the developmental tasks of adolescence, risk and resilience, and the strong tendency of current approaches to address single problems and symptoms rather than underlying conditions. A conceptual framework is presented that combines known elements of risk and protective factors, such as antecedents, system markers of current or potential difficulties, risk behaviors, and outcomes. I briefly review what we know about youth risk behavior and outcomes in various domains, including combined prevalence and patterning. I then examine what we know about the payoffs that we can expect from investing in activities that promote adolescent health. I end with a set of recommendations for researchers and practitioners, and discuss the information that they need to put these recommendations into practice.