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Resilient Adolescents

Resilient adolescents in an Australian context – Mandie Shean, Edith Cowan University, Australia
Brighton Resilience Forum - Wednesday 13 July 2016

by Angie, boingboing volunteer and blogger

Mandie Shean’s Resilience Forum today. She’s from Edith Cowan University in Perth, Oz. She’s over with us for a couple of months. Mandie wanted to hang out with Boingboing to learn about co-production and it’s been lovely having her around. Hoping to be working with her long term. I examined Mandie’s PhD thesis some years ago and she had certainly done a thorough job. Great to be here today to see her presenting on the resilience of adolescents between the ages of 16-18.

Mandie begins by telling us about her background – she’s got a teaching background and she’s a psychologist. Well qualified indeed. Her study included fairly affluent young people who weren’t necessarily doing that well. She makes the point that wealthy doesn’t mean well. Yeah, not totally Mandie, we get the point, but come on, if you’ve got a bit of dosh you’re more likely to do better.

I think Mandie’s saying that the adversity context for her study included pressure from the media and from school to dress a certain way, be a certain weight, and achieve academically. Family breakdown and bullying were also part of the context. But she doesn’t want to just do what other research says and call all these risks. For her, these are explanations, not labels. Also, risks are dependent on the individual and can be either cumulative or a major event. It really depends. She says you can’t make assumptions and shouldn’t label. Sad to hear, but some of the young people in her study had attempted suicide and were really in a bad way. Also, young people in her area were often mollycoddled too much and then got in a total state over nothing. These kids need help too Mandie says.

Coping is Mandie’s favourite topic. She introduced us to the difference between emotion-focused coping (anger, grief, denial, for example) and problem-focused coping (thinking through the problem, defining, generating and selecting solutions). Mandie draws a picture of a person with anger in their tummy and then talks through how they need to convert that into something that goes on in their head. Something they talk through. Otherwise they can end up with anxiety or depression.

Mandie Shean

Going on to talking about her results, she found that feelings of self-worth were very important. Mandie talked through the difference between stable and unstable self-worth. Things like hair, money, cars, houses and friends are less reliable as markers of self-worth. More reliable keys to self-worth were relationships, self-efficacy, boundaries, existence and purpose etc. By existence, Mandie’s participants meant a belief in something spiritual, like god, or feeling that other people really validated their existence in the world. So sending a young person a birthday card is really important because it affirms their place in the world as an individual. For Mandie, forming good relationships with young people requires serious acceptance, avoiding saying things about their looks as the first thing we communicate to young people.

Her final issue to drive home in relation to self-esteem is self-efficacy. That is the ‘beliefs in one’s capabilities to organise and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainment’, as stated by the often quoted Bandura. In 1994 and 1997 if you’d like to know when. Mandie says it’s really important that young people have a realistic sense of mastery over tasks and tells us a story about young people in one of her classes, a heap of whom ended up in prison or dead. Crikey, that’s really shocking. When she started the talk I thought she’d mostly been working with posh kids. Sounds like she’s really had a lot of experience of working with people from all walks of life.

I’m thinking that Mandie’s research and her practice are beginning to merge now. Someone asks a question about how she came to the conclusions from her research. She says that there wasn’t much difference between what more affluent kids said about being resilient and what those from poorer backgrounds said. She did wonder why some of the poorer young people hadn’t mentioned needing some of the basics in life in order to be resilient. It was good to get that clarified but I’m still not too sure what’s coming from her research and what’s coming from her psychology practice. I know that feeling myself. For me research and practice often overlap and merge. We’ve got a lot in common, Mandie Shean.

In the question and answer section of the afternoon Mandie said a bit about the contribution her work has made to the resilience field. She says that the longitudinal aspect of the research was a serious contribution, as was the fact that she interviewed Australian young people about their resilience. This was the first study to do this in Oz. Mandie also found that young people didn’t use services much even though they were available.

Mandie’s thesis has been downloaded over 2,000 times so it’s clearly not sitting on the shelf in Oz. Please don’t go home and sit on a shelf in Oz yourself Mandie. Can’t wait for you to come back to Blighty again. Our Australian friend mentions our Resilience Framework a couple of times and she says she’s keen to explore the overlap between that and her own work. Looking forward to hearing more about that, and I doubt it will be too late before I do. Thanks for all your hard work Mandie. We’ve loved having you.  Come back soon or I’m sure Boingboingers would jump at the chance to visit. I think Simon Duncan is packing his suitcase even whilst facilitating the Forum this very moment…

We're off to Oz