Jim doesn't get home from school until about 5 p.m., after he has worked out with his high-school track team. He eats dinner, does his homework and goes to bed.

Weekends provide a social break, sometimes with a movie and a basketball game.

Vanessa's routine is similar, except her afternoons are spent babysitting children of the working parents next door. Both Vanessa and Jim have "B" and above-grade averages.

For Mike, the days drift by, building momentum towards weekend parties and sometimes imterspersed with a six-pack afternoon. In the evenings, he is usually too tired to do his homework, so he wiles away the hours watching TV.

Mike and to some extend Jim and Vanessa are caught in what psychologists call "the suburban trap." The rows upon rows of neat residential lots have put the corner drug store, vacant-lot ballfield and neighborhood library out of many teens' reach. Without "wheels," they may feel locked into their suburban housing developments.

As a patchwork of separate residential, commercial and industrial zoning blocks, the suburbs have created their own rite of adolescence, according to Dr. Milton Shore, chief of the child and youth programs section of the child and youth programs section of the National Institute of Mental Health's Study Center in Adelphi, Md.

"The day suburban teens receive their driver's license," he says, "is the day they feel they have truly entered adolescence."

Some teens like Jim and Vanessa are trying to hurdle suburban barriers. They are meeting after school with the math club and wiping tables at Roy Rogers by relying on a late school bus, a "motor mom," or their own pedal power. One teen who loves to shop is even content to take a two-hour bus ride (one way) to the closest suburban mall.

But others, like Mike, are turning to TV, drugs and alcohol as an escape from isolation and boredom.

Adolescence is by definition a time of reaching outside the family circle, flexing ego muscle and declaring independence. The natural conflict that occurs during this process is escalated when the suburban environment prevents teens from rehearsing their eventual move away from home.

As one mother points out, "There is no place for kids to just roam and get away from their families. They can't go into neighbor's yards, because so many people in the suburbs are very protective of their property.When our teens hang out in front of our house, we worry about what the neighbors think, and if the kids are making too much noise. But yet we're glad that we at least know where they are."

What is needed, says Shore, who is the father of three teens and World Health Organization consultant on youth services, is a network of neighborhood youth centers similar to the Swedish system.

"We are taking a step in that direction with programs like Montgomery County's community schools, in which school buildings are used after school by the whole community. But, on the whole, what we have is a series of isolated groups -- people with little transportation, communication and incentive to pull together.

"The whole social ethic of people working together as they do in small towns has broken down in the suburbs. The anxiety felt by parents of teen-agers is not just coming from them. They are living in a society that doesn't give them the support that would make their job easier. As a result, they and their teens feel lost."

This sense of isolation is fueled by a value system which portrays the suburbs as a mecca of success.

"People move to the suburbs with the goal of finding a good place to live with a good house and good schools," says Abby Sternberg, coordinator for services to children and youth at the Mt. Vernon Center for Community Mental Health in Alexandria, which sponsored a recent conference on "Parenting Youth: A Suburban Crisis?"

"Children are expected to fall into this pattern and turn out well, because they have had all of the advantages.

"When kids don't make the grade, parents feel very frustrated and angry, and the kids feel even worse. Some rebel against these high expectations by not achieving. In the other extreme, they might burn the midnight oil on homework and not get involved in any social activities, which may look better, but is not in terms of mental health."

The affluence and achievement touted in the suburbs can, in fact, be deceptive.

Says a mother who struggles with guilt when she goes out at night and leaves her teen-age son alone watching TV: "We feel wealthy economically, intellectually and culturally, but often we are emotionally impoverished. The suburbs can be a very lonely place."

The frequent moves of people put on the transit circuit by the military, national corporations and government agencies only make it more difficult for suburban families to feel a sense of belonging in their communities.

By the time he is a teen, the transient child has either become adept at coping as the new kid in school, or he has withdrawn into himself, tired of the seemingly futile struggle of building new ties.

Sternberg places these teens into a "higher risk" category, because they are constantly having to re-establish their identity during a time when it is already a little shaky.

Not only are suburbs a panorama of moving vans and house-for-sale signs, they are also often new, without the roots of family history or even nearby family members. When parents experience stress, says one father, that stress is more likely to spill onto the children, because there are no relatives across town to serve as an outlet.

Families may feel reluctant to reach out to strangers for help and support because it is part of the suburban ethic to prize individualism. Admitting to a problem can also be embarrassing in a culture that aims to "keep up appearances."

The list of suburban stresses goes on -- from absent working parents to over-filled family schedules -- and all of these problems serve to undermine teen-agers in one of the most vulnerable developmental stages.

In a prescription for helping teens to ride out this time of change and to discover self-esteem, Shore suggests that parents and suburban agencies work together to get teens out of the house and into worthwhile activities.

"Young people have to be kept busy. They have a lot of energy that needs to be drained off, and not just in school work. They need for someone to knock on their door and say 'We want you, the community needs you, you are important.'

"This request has to come from someone outside of the family, because you can't expect parents to plan out their teens' lives. Everything parents say will be opposed, because teens are trying to break away from their families and become part of a larger social circle.

"It is the kids that haven't been motivated and appreciated who become withdrawn and depressed and sit in front of the tube all night. But with a little incentive, I've seen kids work in old-age homes, on hot lines and in day-care centers. These are the kids that really grow."