What makes our youth resilient?
Much has been written about youth unemployment, but what makes youth who are school-going age resilient despite various challenges? Renowned North-West University (NWU) resilience researcher, Prof Linda Theron, formed part of the Pathways to Resilience Study to investigate how the social systems that young people are part of, contribute to resilience across contexts and cultures.
Prof Theron, who hails from the sub-programme Pathways to Resilience and Posttraumatic Growth in the Vaal Triangle Campus' Optentia Research Focus Area, formed part of the five-country study between 2009 and 2014.
The Pathways to Resilience Study in South Africa collected information on 1 137 youths between the ages of 12 and 19 who lived in neighbourhoods characterised by aspects such as high levels of poverty, ineffective schools, high rates of unemployment, crime, poor living conditions, and poor service delivery.
According Prof Theron and fellow researcher Dr Angelique van Rensburg, the findings from the South African study revealed that schools, teachers and education are key factors in what young people report as placing them at risk and supporting their resilience. Thus it is essential that schools need to support the resilience of youth who are at risk and not make them more vulnerable.
What do young rate as risky and supportive?
Researchers at the Optentia Research Focus Area are increasingly aware that it is important to learn from young people about what is most likely to put them at risk for negative life outcomes and what they consider to be the supports most likely to inform their resilience. This will put adults in a better position to provide meaningful support to young people.
Young people rate school risks higher than any other risks, whilst also rating education-related resources to be the most available. Girls rated school risks significantly higher than boys did; yet despite this girls reported significantly higher engagement in school, compared to boys.
In identifying resources available to them, girls perceived higher levels of personal resilience-supporting resources, physical caregiving, psychological caregiving, and spiritual resilience-supporting resources. Generally, however, boys tend to make use of services such as school services, social services, mental health services and correctional services more than girls do.
The researchers have identified the need to further explore why boys and girls report significantly different perceptions of personal resilience-supporting resources, physical caregiving, psychological caregiving, and spiritual resilience-supporting resources, and why three of these characterise differences in perceptions between younger and older youth too.
A worrying outcome/result of their research is that younger youth and girls are more likely to perceive physical caregiving, psychological caregiving, and spiritual resilience-supporting resources as being available to them compared to older youth and boys.
The South African study was guided by community leaders and members, who acted as an advisory panel as they were informed about the youth in their communities and their resilience.
* Optentia’s Pathways to Resilience and Post-traumatic Growth sub-programme explores how and why some South African children, youths, and adults adjust well to adversity, and flourish following experiences of trauma. Researchers in this sub-programme are particularly interested in how culture, gender and evidence-based interventions shape resilience and post-traumatic growth processes. Much of their work involves innovative, visual methodologies that involve participants as co-researchers. The sub-programme aims to use the findings of their projects to partner with children, youth, and communities to encourage greater resilience and post-traumatic growth in culturally congruent ways. Learn more about Optentia by visiting their website: www.optentia.co.za