Crisis Phenomena among African Adolescents

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

In addition to the normal maturational stresses, adolescents have to deal with "an anti-child culture that confronts children with a cool, hard world outside their home" (Packard, 1983, p. xx). Home life may be no better: "At the same time, we are seeing an increase in patterns of living and of child-raising that can often inflict lasting damage on children" (Packard, 1983, p. xx).

Le Roux (1993) includes the disintegration of family life, overcrowding, undernourishment, and violence in his list of adverse conditions facing South African youths. The problems spawned by their disadvantaged environment are further intensified by a strife-ridden and polarized society. The term "lost generation" is frequently used to describe these youths. They have also been labeled "a generation of Frankenstein monsters," "psychotic," "angry," "brutish," "psychopathic," "malicious," and "irreparably damaged," according to Straker (1989, pp. 20-22). The question arises as to whether this is a fair description of these adolescents, especially in view of their circumstances in a prejudiced society: "through a slight of speech, the evil which resides in the social structures comes to be represented as residing within victims. . . . Thus black youth, who are indeed the victims, come to be depicted as the villains" (Straker, 1989).

The crisis many of these adolescents experience is manifested in a variety of phenomena. Insight into these crisis phenomena could contribute toward optimizing intervention and prevention strategies. The present research project investigated the prevalence and nature of problematic parent-child relationships and problems regarding sexuality and alcohol/drug abuse among African adolescents. Further, it was hypothesized that dysfunctional parent-child relationships might predispose adolescents to substance abuse and sexuality problems.

METHOD

Sample

Convenience sampling was used. The disadvantage of this type of nonprobability sampling is that it cannot be assumed that the participants are representative of the larger population, which limits the generalizability of the findings.

The sample consisted of 378 South African university students (143 males and 235 females). Most were between 17 and 26 years of age and were considered to be in the late-adolescent phase. They represented a variety of ethnic backgrounds (Northern Sotho, 32.2%; Tswana, 29.3%; Zulu, 12.4%; and other, 26.1%) and came from urban (57.0%), rural (27.6%), and suburban (15.4%) areas.

Data were collected by means of a structured questionnaire. Questions were answered according to a 4-point scale. For purposes of interpretation, answers were grouped into two categories, with 1 and 2 representing a negative response (A), and 3 and 4 representing a positive response (B).

FINDINGS

Parent-Child Relationships

Table 1 shows that the majority of the students feel loved (91.5%) and understood (68.9%) by their parents, even though 43.2% feel that their parents do not accept them unconditionally. While 79.4% indicated that their parents provide firm guidance and 84.1% noted that their parents encourage them to study, only 17.6% feel that they can share secrets with their parents. The latter finding underscores the fact that 72.7% feel that communication with their parents is inadequate.

Table 1: Students' relationships with parents

                                                       A        B

Feel loved by their parents                           8.4%    91.5%
Feel understood by their parents                     31.1%    68.9%
Feel unconditionally accepted by their parents       43.2%    56.9%
Parents encourage them in their studies              15.8%    84.1%
Parents discuss right and wrong with them            26.6%    73.4%
Parents provide firm guidance                        20.6%    79.4%
Parents exhibit an authoritarian attitude            43. …