A bioecocultural approach to supporting adolescent mothers and their young children in conflict-affected contexts

Alice J. Wuermli, Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Paul D. Hastings

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An estimated 12 million girls aged 15-19 years, and 777,000 girls younger than 15 give birth globally each year. Contexts of war and displacement increase the likelihood of early marriage and childbearing. Given the developmentally sensitive periods of early childhood and adolescence, adolescent motherhood in conflict-affected contexts may put a family at risk intergenerationally. We propose that the specifics of normative neuroendocrine development during adolescence, including increased sensitivity to stress, pose additional risks to adolescent girls and their young children in the face of war and displacement, with potential lifelong consequences for health and development. This paper proposes a developmental, dual-generational framework for research and policies to better understand and address the needs of adolescent mothers and their small children. We draw from the literature on developmental stress physiology, adolescent parenthood in contexts of war and displacement internationally, and developmental cultural neurobiology. We also identify culturally meaningful sources of resilience and provide a review of the existing literature on interventions supporting adolescent mothers and their offspring. We aim to honor Edward Zigler's groundbreaking life and career by integrating basic developmental science with applied intervention and policy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)714-726
Number of pages13
JournalDevelopment and Psychopathology
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2021


  • adolescent mothers
  • adolescent pregnancy
  • conflict
  • culture
  • humanitarian
  • intervention
  • low- and middle-income countries
  • resilience
  • stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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