Psychological Education: Studying Adolescents' Interests from Their Own Perspective

Article excerpt

Adolescence is a critical period in which significant changes occur both within the individual (e.g., physiologically, cognitively, psychologically) and externally (e.g., peer pressure, or moving from a small, neighborhood-based school to a large, more anomic one). Such changes are challenging, often difficult, and occasionally very stressful. Most adolescents, however, show no psychopathology, and their overall rate is only slightly higher than that for other age groups (Rutter, 1985).

The number and nature of the changes and challenges occurring during this period require adolescents to develop effective coping strategies (Peterson & Hamburg, 1986). Specific risk and protective factors relating to youths' well-being have been identified (e.g., Garmezy, 1985), and efforts to build on their strengths have been undertaken. For example, the proactive approaches originating from community/preventive psychology (Glenwick & Jason, 1984) are geared toward fostering competencies. One such intervention that aims at promoting both psychological growth and adjustment to school is "psychological education" (Ivey & Alschuler, 1973; Klingman, 1983, 1984, 1986; Sprinthall, 1977).

Psychological education attempts to equip students with the knowledge and skills needed for dealing with the difficulties encountered in the normal course of life. Although an array of empirically tested school-based programs are now available within this conceptual framework (e.g., Klingman & Zeidner, 1990; Zeidner, Klingman, & Popko, 1988), there are still issues that deserve attention. Martin (1990), for example, raised questions concerning the conceptual validity and generalizability of programs that claim to impart psychological skills. Klingman and Zeidner (1990) noted that few studies have examined the face validity of psychological education programs from the perspective of the "major players" in the intervention process; namely, the students themselves. Related to this is the contention that mental health professionals and educators may have too little empirically based information about the concerns, challenges, and difficulties of their target population and, therefore, they may find it difficult to decide which program to adopt.

A review of the literature revealed a dearth of studies in which students were provided the opportunity to express their concerns or interests. Smith (1980) developed a questionnaire to identify the concerns of young Americans and found the most important to be school grades, dating, relationships (with friends and siblings), money, conflicts with parents, and "the future." Rauste-Von Wright (1983) reported that 90% of Scandinavian adolescents were concerned with social success, school achievement, economics, self-actualization through hobbies, health, and world peace: Pool and Evans (1988) examined Australian adolescents' perceptions of the importance of a set of life skills. They identified five clusters: (1) occupational achievement, education, independence, and the future; (2) personal relationships, communication, and ease of social interaction; (3) opposite-sex relationships; (4) knowledge about career, budgeting, and educational opportunities; and (5) personal and social responsibility. Planning, decision-making, and taking responsibility were found to be related to other items.

Psychological education addressed from the students' frame of reference assumes that information on their needs, interests, and concerns - at various times within adolescence - is available. Further, the development of meaningful programs requires knowledge of which facilitator they would prefer. Some topics (e.g., coping with distress) are of such a nature that a teacher might not be trusted, while other topics (e.g., study skills) are integral to a teacher's responsibilities, and still other topics (e.g., preparation for military service) may be beyond the scope of school staff.

The present study sought to identify the major areas reflective of students' interests in order to construct and validate an inventory that assesses their concerns. …

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