Adolescent turning points: Helping young people make sense of adversity

Turning points, including unexpected deaths, serious accident or illness, natural disasters, etc., can change the path of one’s life.  And, according to researchers, when they strike during adolescence and early adulthood, when identity development is still in flux, they can be particularly influential and growth enhancing. For this growth to occur, however, survivors need to be provided with opportunities to make meaning of the event, and to build a narrative that emphasizes personal strength and growth.  Of course, young people vary in how they make sense of their struggles and two young people can differ dramatically in how they extract positive meaning from the same event.

In a study, published in a recent issue of Developmental Psychology, Tavenier and Willowghby explored this process in a sample of over 400 high school seniors. They found that meaning-making was significantly associated with psychological well-being, even after controlling for how the young people were doing prior to the event.As the authors note, “the results of this study add to a growing body of literature on the meaning-making process and its associations with psychological well-being and adjustment, particularly among adolescents.”

Mentoring and other caring adults can, in the words of the authors, benefit from “the knowledge that navigating life’s unpredictable paths is not necessarily solely associated with negative affect. When mentors provide a safe context for adolescents explore and understand  of their significant life experiences, youth are more likely to experience positive consequences.

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