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In Defense of Adolescents

Daniel Offer, MD
JAMA. 1987;257(24):3407-3408. doi:10.1001/jama.1987.03390240113036.
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ADOLESCENTS have always perplexed the adult world. By definition, a teenager is someone between childhood and adulthood. But exactly where in this continuum an individual teenager is at any one point has always been something of a mystery.

Lawmakers have had difficulty in deciding at what age the privileges of adult membership in society should be extended to an individual, and confusion and inconsistencies abound. For example, in virtually every jurisdiction in the United States, a 14-year-old adolescent cannot legally vote, buy alcohol, or obtain a driver's license. Yet, if that same 14-year-old adolescent were to commit a murder, he or she could, in many states, be tried as an adult—suggesting that the adolescent has the maturity and decision-making capacity consistent with full adult responsibility for criminal behavior.

Adolescent Turmoil  The very notion of an "adolescent" as someone different from a child who is, however, not yet an adult in


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