How adolescents define well being

03 Mar, 2020
How adolescents define well being

Despite facing greater social change than any generation before them, young people making the tricky transition from childhood to young adulthood, know what they need to stay well.

New research from the Auckland University of Technology has analysed 11 to 13-year olds to find out what they consider to be wellbeing.

Three studies examined adolescents’ views on (1) what constitutes and (2) promotes wellbeing, and whether their perspectives aligned with those of adults, as well as (3) whether socioeconomic status had any influence on their perceptions.

Contrary to adults; adolescents consider enjoyment/having fun, feeling safe, being helpful/ kind, and self-efficacy as central components of wellbeing, while a sense of satisfaction was peripheral.  Popular adult models identify components such as positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and purpose, equilibrium, life satisfaction and accomplishment.

In a report published in the International Journal of Wellbeing, PhD student Gazal Bharara (supervised by Associate Professor Scott Duncan and Professor Erica Hinckson), of AUT’s Human Potential Centre (HPC) says a lack of consensus on the concept of wellbeing is a potential impediment to the progress and precision of wellbeing science and has significant implications for assessment and intervention.

“Traditionally, wellbeing research has been biased towards adults although adolescents are willing and capable of contributing. A greater understanding of adolescents’ conceptualisations of wellbeing would inform researchers, policy makers, and schools to define adolescent wellbeing and make more accurate assessments, programs and policies.  How well a programme is received or valued in school is likely to depend on the opinions of the adolescents who are directly affected.”

Low decile participants considered comfort/being wealthy, being focused, good physical health, good values, and success/achievement as more central for wellbeing than high-socioeconomic status adolescents.

“Differences in ratings may have surfaced due to adolescents’ diverse socioeconomic status, culture or theme of the school (school values),” says Bharara. “When devising assessments and policies for low socioeconomic groups, their unique perceptions should be taken into account with adolescents’ general conceptualisations of wellbeing.”

For all participants, positive family relationships (60%), positive friendships (55%), physical activity and sport (34%), and hobbies (30%) were the most frequently reported ways to promoting wellbeing among all adolescents. Other important pathways were engaging with nature (17%), digital entertainment (16%), pet ownership and attachment (14%), being kind/helpful (14%), socialising (13%), being around positive people (13%) and eating healthily (12%).

Bharara says under New Zealand’s Wellbeing Budget, schools should be required to teach wellbeing as part of their curriculums.

The research, which is a first-of-its-kind in New Zealand, looked at more than 350 adolescents aged 11-13 at two Auckland schools; in ethnically and socioeconomically diverse regions. In the first study, 38% were from a low (socioeconomic) decile school and 62% from a high (socioeconomic) decile school. Approximately 54% of the sample was New Zealand European with the remainder being Māori (11%), Pacific Islander (18%), Asian (7%), African/Middle Eastern (4%), and others (7%).

Background - Gazal Bharara

Gazal Bharara is a PhD student at the Human Potential Centre, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand. As part of her research, she examined factors that promote wellbeing of adolescents during intermediate to secondary school transition.
Prior to her full-time studies, she worked as a school counselling psychologist, specialised adolescent psychologist, motivational coach, and special educator. Her current research interests are adolescent wellbeing, school psychology, psychometrics, positive education, and positive transition. She holds a Master and a Bachelor (Honours) of Psychology and has received numerous awards.

Useful links:

International Journal of Wellbeing

AUT’s Human Potential Centre

Associate Professor Scott Duncan

Professor Erica Erica Hinckson