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Risk, resilience and literature

June 2, 2012

Kirk Astroth questions the media portrayal of youth as a time of problems, arguing that youth today are happier, healthier, and more positive than generations before.

“Young people today,” Astroth writes, “are typically portrayed as some aberrant and pariah class suffering its own distinct ‘epidemics’ that are different from behavior of previous generations and bear no relationship to adult patterns of behavior.”  He goes on to write, “‘Youth at risk has become a lens through which all young people are viewed so that adolescence itself is seen today as some awful, incurable disease.  Indeed, it would appear that troubled youth aren’t the exception but rather have become the dysfunctional rule.”

Astroth offers a number of statistics to challenge prevailing beliefs in the susceptibility of youth to gang involvement, psychiatric treatments, teenage pregnancy or suicide.  He suggests his reader “imagine how different our view of early childhood might be if child development were taught only through a focus on bedwetting, stuttering, and sibling rivalry.”

“Extension youth workers should closely check the data for their communities, before succumbing to the national mythology that all youth are at risk,” he asserts: “Broad generalizations about youth can detract from targeted efforts to address real – not perceived – problems in local communities.”

I like what he has to say: “we should be careful about the messages sent to young people.  Unwarranted pessimism about one’s generation, reinforced by negative and false publicity, can damage the confidence young people have in themselves and their future.”

Kirk A. Astroth ‘Are Youth at Risk?’ Journal of Extension. 31(3)1993 (

As always, there is plenty of literature out there to draw on and I have lists somewhere, meanwhile… this looked good:  Handbook for working with children and youth : pathways to resilience across cultures and contexts / editor, Michael Ungar (available at The University of Auckland Library)


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