About The Course
Welcome Message

Welcome to the CoursePlus Web site for THE SOCIAL CONTEXT OF ADOLESCENT HEALTH AND DEVELOPMENT (380.725.01), a course offered by the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Course Description

Integrates biological and sociological influences on adolescent health and development. Places developmental biology in a social context to illustrate how social forces, even those which seem far removed from health, shape biology and behavior during adolescence. Emphasizes multidisciplinary approaches, principally integrating basic science with the social and behavioral sciences and understanding gene by environment interactions. Examines the role of context in individual-level developmental and cognitive processes including: social influences on brain development, decision-making and behavior. Focuses on neighborhood, family, school, media influences, socioeconomic status, and race/ethnicity. Uses empirical work to consider the role of context in prevention and interventions aimed at adolescents.

Course Learning Objectives

Upon successfully completing this course, students will be able to:

  • Illustrate the role of contextual factors in shaping adolescent health and development
  • Describe how biological and sociocultural influences interact to shape trajectories of development and wellbeing throughout adolescence
  • Integrate contextual factors into public heath prevention and intervention strategies aimed at adolescents

Course Time

Mon   1:30 PM to 4:20 PM

Course Faculty
Intended Audience

Graduate Students.

Course Topics

Theoretical models of contextual effects on health and development

  • Social constructions of adolescent development and behavior

Individual-level development in context: How does social experience get reflected in the biology of development?

  • Gene/environment interactions, epigenetics, evolutionary/life history theories

The adolescent brain and decision-making in context

  • Social influences on brain development; the social context of risky and protective choices

Socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity as contexts

  • Material versus psychosocial approaches to SES; methodological issues in studying race/ethnicity

Parent/Family Contexts

  • The role of parents--Is there are parenting "gold standard?"

 Peer Contexts

  • Romantic Relationships

Neighborhood Influences


Grading Policy & Grading Restrictions

Grading Policy: Student evaluation based on class participation, scholarship critiques and brief paper.

Grading Restrictions: Letter grade

Additional Faculty Notes:

Course Requirements and Grading

1.     Class Participation (15%):  Please come to class prepared to discuss the readings and to engage in thoughtful dialogue with others in the class.  Your class participation grade also includes completing brief (ungraded) in-classes quizzes that are intended to help you gauge your understanding of class concepts.

2.     Annotated Bibliography (35%): As the first step in the final project, students will create an annotated bibliography that demonstrates their ability to summarize and critically evaluate the published literature related to ONE of the following adolescent public health issues in Baltimore:

a)     Reducing adolescent pregnancy

b)     Reducing adolescent firearm violence

c)     Increasing high school graduation rates

For the bibliography, students will choose one specific aspect of the social ecology to focus on (e.g., parental involvement, peer aggressive behavior, neighborhood violence, school climate) that either protects or places youth at risk the public health issue you chose (i.e., a, b, or c above).  They will write a paragraph (no more than 250 words) summarizing how each article informs interventions. (An example of an annotated bibliography entry will be provided). You should include the following in your annotations:

·       A summary of the central theme of the work.

·       How this source is similar or dissimilar from other sources you have located.

·       How this work illuminates the social ecology/public health outcome relationship you have chosen to investigate.


The annotated bibliography should include 6 papers. This should not include review articles, although you are welcome to use review articles for background or to help identify relevant empirical articles. It is due to CoursePlus by noon on Monday, April 22nd. More details on this assignment are provided in a separate document.

3.     Final Paper (50%): Baltimore City submitted three separate competitive grant proposals to a local foundation to fund interventions to address the public health problems outlined above (i.e., a-c). Their applications were not successful. The grant reviewers said that the applications were not funded because they failed to consider contextual factors in their interventions. You are brought as a consultant. You will review ONE grant application and write a report detailing:

1)     The ways in which their current proposal does not reflect a contextual approach;

2)     Why this might lead to less effective programs;

3)     Specific ways they could integrate one contextual factor.


The goal in this report is to communicate an analysis of the evidence clearly and persuasively. The report should use the peer-reviewed articles in your annotated bibliography for background and support. It should be no more than 2500 words, using 12-point font, double spacing, and 1-inch margins.  Word limits will be strictly enforced. The report is due via Courseplus by noon on the last day of class (Monday, May 13, 2013).


Late assignments: Given the short term, no late assignments will be accepted. 

Administrative Contact

Sara Johnson
E-mail: sjohnson@jhsph.edu