Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Resilient and Non-Resilient Behaviour in Adolescents

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Resilient and Non-Resilient Behaviour in Adolescents

Article excerpt

This paper reports research which focuses on the concept of 'resilience' - a new approach to looking at how protective factors and processes operate in the lives of young people identified as being "at risk". The study finds that resilience can be gained through protective factors and processes that may be located within the young person (for example, learned attitudes or beliefs); in the family context (for example, caring adults); or in schools and the community. The greater the number of protective factors and processes surrounding a young person, the more likely he or she is to exhibit resilience. This finding highlights the need for programs that provide support to families in crisis, and for greater recognition of the nurturing role schools can play through the establishment of clubs and associations on school premises. The study looked at young people who were classified as being "at risk" of engaging in delinquent behaviour but who did not do so. It found that young people who demonstrated resilience believed that they had control over their lives, had a more positive view and plans for the future, and a stronger sense of attachment to other people and institutions.

Adam Graycar


It has been well documented, both in Australia (Eyers, Cormack & Barrati 1992; Cumming 1998) and overseas (Galton, Rudduck & Gray 1999; Hargreaves, Earl & Ryan 1996), that the transitional life stage of adolescence can be a difficult time for significant numbers of young people. Indeed, the international literature is replete with studies documenting a major concern with juvenile delinquency, teenage pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse and teenage violence. Constructing adolescence as a time of turmoil and trouble, however, serves only to stigmatise and promote negative perceptions of adolescents and their families and does little to help solve the problems of young people.

A more constructive analysis of the demands of adolescence draws on the newly emerging literature on human resilience defined by Masten, Best and Garmezy (1990, p. 425) as "the process of, capacity for, or outcome of successful adaptation despite challenging or threatening circumstances''. Rather than adopting a deficit perspective on youth issues, resilience-focused research seeks to identify the positive factors in adolescents' lives that help them cope with the new developmental tasks required of them by society (Howard, Dryden & Johnson 1999).

From this perspective, "problems" with adolescents are not so much located within the individual adolescent but within the social structures in which they are embedded. This perspective is congruent with ecological systems theory (Bronfenbrenner 1979) which views the individual as developing within a complex system of relationships affected by multiple levels of the surrounding environment.

The notion of resilience emerged, almost by accident, from longitudinal developmental studies of "at risk" groups of children who encountered many life stressors as they grew towards adulthood (Werner & Smith 1987; Silva & Stanton 1996). Rather than focusing on those children and adolescents who were casualties of these stressors, a new set of studies began to focus instead on those young people who had not succumbed. The questions this work investigated were:

* What is it about these children and adolescents that enables them to survive?

* What makes them apparently immune to the factors that negatively affect others?

Instead of focusing on individual deficit, the new approach focused on individual and environmental strengths ("protective factors" and "protective processes") that helped young people withstand high levels of "risk" and, thus, the concept of resilience emerged in the psychological literature.

The Study

This paper reports on some aspects of a recently completed qualitative research project which looked at the ways in which the kinds of protective factors and processes identified in the literature actually work in, or are absent from, the lives of adolescents in an Australian context. …

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