On the Wellbeing of Adolescents

Statement from President Robert Crosnoe

Like many of you, I spent last week thinking about and talking about the separation of children from their parents at the U.S. border. I have been engaged with this issue personally but also as a developmental scientist who studies young people, including young people growing up in immigrant families.

Not surprisingly, this issue has also prompted much discussion among the leadership of the Society for Research on Adolescence about the role of scientific organizations in significant and contentious debates about policy. We strongly believe that, as experts on the lives of adolescents, we need to be involved in these kinds of debates, that our organization’s legal status does not preclude us from weighing in as a scientific voice, that we need to work on ways to be nimble and proactive in doing so, and that we need to help better scaffold the participation of our members in such an important process.

As for the specific issue of the separation of families at the border, we have valuable and relevant evidence that needs to be shared. In this case, the evidence published in the pages of our journal and presented in the symposia of our meetings shows that the maintenance of a close and committed bond between parents and their children is a fundamental component of positive and healthy development. Although much of the discussion of such evidence in the public focuses on young children, the harm of threats to that bond—and of trauma more generally—is also very real to adolescents.  It can be manifested in the short term but also in the years to come as adolescents grow into adults. That is why the mid-week decision against separations—which came as we were still considering the best way to offer our scientific view of the issue—is clearly consistent with scientific evidence.

Last Wednesday’s decision does not mean that this issue or related issues (e.g., the developmental effects of detention and immigration proceedings on families and unaccompanied minors) simply goes away.  Certainly, there also will be more issues concerning the wellbeing of adolescents coming our way in the future.  That is why the leadership of the society is committed to supporting its members, when they have expertise and evidence that can be brought to bear. That includes participation in policy discussions but also in more public communication, such as helping parents talk to adolescents about issues of social justice.  Our various committees—including Media and Communications, Social Policy, Diversity and Equity, and Consensus—will be working on ways to help facilitate the translation of the research conducted by individual members and member groups into public use where appropriate.

Family separation is not the first issue that has galvanized members of this society, and it will not be the last.  The goal we will work towards in the year ahead in the society is to better position us—as individual scientists and as a collective—to inform understanding of these issues in timely, constructive, and effective ways.

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