Toronto, Feb 3: The key to understanding how people come to care about their community might lie in the relationships fostered as adolescents, say researchers in psychology.
Craig Kielburger, 12, travelled to India to learn about child labourers; Malala Yousafzai, 14, defied the Taliban in Afghanistan and insisted on education for women. Their lives demonstrate that under the right conditions, the desire to reform the world starts early in life.
Organisations such as ‘Teen Activist’ and ‘Do Something’ rally teens to make a difference in their communities. Of course, not every teen will step forward and get involved, the Journal of Youth and Adolescence reports.
“Increasing our understanding of adolescents’ relationships with friends can help us understand what kind of adults they might become,” says Anna-Beth Doyle, professor emeritus of psychology at Concordia University.
Heather Lawford, now a faculty member at Bishop’s University, completed the study as her doctoral thesis, within a larger project on adolescent social development and adjustment, led by Doyle and Dorothy Markiewicz, now at Brock University.
The study is the first to explore how concern for future generations has its roots in adolescence. The researchers collected yearly responses from 142 teens between 13 and 16 years old, according to a Concordia statement.
The teens were asked to gauge how concerned they were with contributing to the future by responding to statements like “I try to help others by sharing what I’ve learned in my life,” and “Others would say that I have done something special for society”.
Researchers found that adolescents who had caring relationships with their friends went on to develop a concern for others beyond their immediate circle.
“The real-life experience of caring for friends seems to give teens an abstract model of the importance of offering care to future generations,” says Lawford. “Adolescents may learn to apply this empathic concern to the welfare of their community.”
The research also explored whether gender played a role in developing care-giving behaviour and friendships. It turned out that the girls in the study reported more care-giving behaviour than boys.
However, the results underlined that anyone who valued caring behaviour would develop concern for others in a larger community, regardless of gender.