The second decade of life is a time of transformation.
During adolescence (ages 10–19), girls and boys begin to interact with the world in new ways – taking chances, learning skills and experiencing unfamiliar emotions.
They venture beyond their families to form powerful connections with peers. They search for ways to stand out and belong, to find their place in society and make a difference in their world.
Today’s generation of young people is larger than ever before. But far too many are not getting what they need to realize their full range of rights. Poverty and deprivation, gender inequality and other forms of discrimination intersect with climate change, economic upheaval, conflict and displacement to threaten adolescents’ well-being.
And through it all, adolescents are too often ignored by policymakers – or worse, viewed as problems or threats.
- There are 1.2 billion adolescents worldwide – the largest cohort ever, and the most educated and urbanized.
- 90 per cent of adolescents live in low- and middle-income countries, and 125 million live in areas affected by armed conflict.
- Sub-Saharan Africa’s growing adolescent population, expected to reach 500 million by 2050, has the potential to fuel powerful change – if Governments invest in and engage it.
- 1 in 4 of the poorest adolescents has never attended school, and more than 200 million adolescents of secondary school age are out of school.
- Adolescents are the only age group among whom AIDS-related deaths are not decreasing.
A window of opportunity
The rapid physical and cognitive development that marks adolescence creates a critical window of opportunity.
The adolescent brain develops at a rate unseen since early childhood – making girls and boys hypersensitive to influences in their environments. Adolescents’ inclination to try new things can spark innovation and achievement, but it can also leave them vulnerable.
These are the years when gender roles may be solidified – with girls bearing the brunt of gender inequality.
Adolescents’ prospects depend on the quality of their environments, relationships and experiences. The care and support they receive, the services they can access, the social norms that guide their communities, and the extent to which they can influence decisions that affect them all make a difference.