Academic journal article Social Policy Journal of New Zealand

"Just Accept Us How We Are More": Experiences of Young Pakeha with Their Families in Aotearoa New Zealand

Academic journal article Social Policy Journal of New Zealand

"Just Accept Us How We Are More": Experiences of Young Pakeha with Their Families in Aotearoa New Zealand

Article excerpt


Families are widely recognised as among the most influential contributors to the environments experienced by young people as they mature. This paper brings together two independent studies--one quantitative, one qualitative--conducted concurrently within the same districts of urban Auckland in Aotearoa New Zealand. Survey data and life-story accounts are used to create a composite representation of the complexity and richness of the young participants' experiences. The importance of parents, siblings and more distant relations is discussed in terms of sample trends and case experience. The implications of the findings for health promotion, positive youth development and social equity are considered, with the conclusion that families remain a crucial site for interventions to enhance the wellbeing of young people.


The relationships that constitute families are widely understood to be a vital part of the context of the wellbeing of young people. Along with other social environments, such as peer groups, school settings and community and workplace contexts, families exert enormous influence for good and ill upon the development and overall health of young people (Disley 1996, Pryor and Woodward 1996, Benson 1997, Durie 1998, Health Funding Authority 1999, Beautrais 2000, Cantor and Neulinger 2000, Ministry of Youth Affairs 2001).

Most young people travel the pathways between childhood and adulthood with energy, skill and considerable grace, gaining character and experience from the stumbles and challenges they experience along the way. A proportion struggle with intermittent or ongoing crises, while a minority experience debilitating and disastrous problems, usually with environmental origins (McGee et al. 1996, Fergusson et al. 1997).

In Aotearoa New Zealand, two longitudinal research projects involving large birth cohorts (one in Dunedin and the other in Christchurch) provide some of our most valuable data on the development and wellbeing of young people.

The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Study provides an important window on the development of young people and highlights that families play a central role in influencing the life experiences and available choices of the young participants (Silva and Stanton 1996). The impacts of weak or negative family environments were expressed in a wide range of distress, disorder and disadvantage, with long-lasting effects on the lives of young people (Pryor and Woodward 1996).

The Christchurch Longitudinal Study (Fergusson and Horwood 2001) has repeatedly reported measures of correlation between family style and stressors and the incidence of mental illness and other forms of social difficulty. Most of the findings from this longitudinal study relate specifically to mental illness in the cohort, and correlate such outcomes with parental separation and divorce, childhood sexual and physical abuse at moderate levels, and with other aspects of family functioning, such as interparental violence, parental alcohol problems and recombined families. The researchers looked at children who presented major mental illness by the age of 15 years and found that their childhoods were marked by multiple social and family disadvantages that spanned economic disadvantage, family dysfunction, impaired parenting and limited life opportunities.

These findings underline the importance of family life in relation to a range of physical and psychological outcomes. Crucial to the family environment is the relationship between young people and their parents or caregivers (Paterson et al. 1995, Pryor and Woodward 1996). This "connectedness" or mutual attachment between young people and their parents is one of the most important protective factors identified in the research literature (Bradley et al. 1994, Gribble et al. 1993, Herrenkohl et al. 1994, Resnick et al. 1997). There has also been considerable effort expended on identifying characteristics of parents that foster good outcomes for young people. …

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