What are the characteristic ways in which risk, vulnerability, protection, and competence have been studied? What are the implicit assumptions underlying this body of research and scholarship? This chapter addresses these questions in the domain of adolescent development, with an emphasis on how a set of alternative assumptions and related research and data analytic strategies can both enrich our understanding of youth well-being and increase our ability to promote positive developmental outcomes.
RISK, PROTECTION, AND COMPETENCE
We define the central phenomena of interest: risk, vulnerability, protection, and competence. Either an individual or a population can be at increased risk for some form of negative developmental outcome, be it delinquency, drug use, depression, schizophrenia, school dropout, or unemployment. Multiple risk or vulnerability factors increase the likelihood that an individual or a population will manifest negative developmental outcomes. Many studies indicate that it is not any single risk factor that is problematic, but the accumulation of multiple risks (e.g., Sameroff & Seifer, 1990). Protective factors are defined as experiences that ameliorate the negative impact of risks. Some investigators have operationalized protective and vulnerability factors in conjunction with each other as part of a multiple risk index (Sameroff & Seifer, 1990), whereas other scholars have argued that protective processes are set in motion only in the presence of adverse risk factors (Rutter, 1990).