Module 2: perspectives on working with young people: facilitator's guide

2.1 Working systemically with young people

Page last updated: 2004

A systems approach
Recallling what it is like to be a young person
Some common themes
Overhead transparencies

A systems approach

A useful way of understanding how young people's experiences and environments affect them is through a systems approach.

When we try to understand young people we must consider not only the individual but also their family, the wider community and society as a whole as well as how they interact with each other. Even subtle changes in one part of the system impacts on other parts and can also affect relationships between them.

When applying a systems approach to working with young people we must acknowledge the following assumptions:
  • Young people are normal and deal with challenges in similar ways to others (i.e. some well and others not so well). Young people develop their coping strategies and skills by learning from others around them, through their own personal qualities and through trial and error.

  • The term 'youth' is a social construction. Societal values and beliefs about young people determines the way in which they are treated within society. For example, young people are viewed differently in different cultures.

  • Young people are not an homogenous group. Although there are some common developmental issues that all young people experience, their individual backgrounds, experiences and cultures are as diverse as the rest of the population.

  • Young people participate actively in their lives, make choices, interact with others and initiate change.
Refer to overhead transparency 1.

Other factors that influence young people are:
  • Developmental stages - differences between a 13-year-old and a 19-year-old, individual differences in reaching developmental milestones

  • Socio-economic status - where they are placed in the socio-economic structure of society

  • Culture - the culture they identify with, and their cultural practices

  • Gender - the biological and social experiences related to their gender

  • Sexuality - their sexual identity and how that is viewed by society Top of page

  • Educational background – type and level of education, the type of school they attended and their experience of education in general.

  • Family background - experiences of family life (foster care, state wards, blended family, singleparent family, traditional family, extended family etc)

  • Physical attributes - possible disability or impairment and physical characteristics (tall, short, dark-skinned, light-haired etc)

  • Peer culture - values and beliefs of their friends and peers

  • Cohort - values, beliefs and behaviours of people who were born at around the same time

  • Interests - hobbies and passions

  • Popular culture - music, fashion, movies
Refer to overhead transparency 2.

Diagram 1 and diagram 2 illustrate the factors that influence a young person's life. The kinds of risk or protective factors present in a young person's life can influence the health and wellbeing outcomes for that individual.

Diagram 1: Youth focused systems approach

Text equivalent below for Diagram 1: Youth focused systems approach
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Text version of Diagram 1

This diagram shows the risk & protective factors that contribute to possible outcomes:
  • Local community factors
  • Societal & political issues
  • Family factors
  • Individual characteristics
  • School & peer factors

Diagram 2: Youth focused systems approach

Text equivalent below for Diagram 2: Youth focused systems approach
Large image of Diagram 2 (GIF 73KB)

Text version of Diagram 2

This diagram shows the risk and protective factors that contribute to possible outcomes.

Possible outcomes include: nature of relationships; health and wellbeing; life opportunities (e.g. education and work); criminal and legal consequences; AOD use and related harm; social inclusion or marginalisation.

Risk and protective factors include:
    • Local community factors: population density; housing conditions; urban/rural area; neighbourhood violence and crime; cultural norms, identity and ethnic pride; opportunities for social development; recreational and support services; demographic and economic factors; connectedness or isolation.

    • School and peer factors: peer connectedness; school climate and culture; school attendance; opportunities for social connection; norms and values of peers and school; friendships and interests; educational approach/methods; school discipline and structure.

    • Individual characteristics: personality and intelligence; gender; cultural background; physical and mental health; social skills and self esteem; sexual behaviour/sexuality; alcohol and drug use; criminal involvement; living situation/homelessness; values and beliefs.

    • Family factors: abuse and neglect; family dysfunction; patterns of communication; family income/employment; parents' mental and physical health; consistency of connection; family values, beliefs and role models; family discipline and structure; extended/nuclear family; family size.

    • Societal and political issues: laws of society; socio-economic climate; availability of services; social values and norms; social/cultural practices and traditions; popular culture (e.g. movies and music); government ideology and policies; role of media and advertising.
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Recalling what it is like to be a young person

Task 1

This exercise will assist learners to understand the various factors that may influence a young person.

Ask learners to spend some time quietly reflecting on their memories of what it was like to be a young person.

Sit comfortably in your chair or on the floor. Close your eyes. Develop an image of yourself when you were 15-19 years of age. Spend some time developing this picture and your memories of significant information around this time.
  • What did you look like?
  • Were you comfortable with your body?
  • Where did you spend a lot of your time?
  • With whom did you feel most comfortable?
  • What were your main worries?
  • Who were the important people in your life?
  • What kinds of things influenced your generation?
  • What were you passionate about?
After a few minutes ask learners to open their eyes and focus back on the present.

Task 2 - group activity

Learners will need photos supplied for the next exercise.

Ask learners to spend some time looking at the various photos and then choose one photo that best symbolises their adolescence.

Ask each learner to present their photo to the group and briefly explain what it represents to them about their adolescence. Allow time for discussion.

Often young people have not yet developed an understanding of their place in a broader context. The purpose of this exercise is for learners to reflect on what it was like to be an adolescent and also to look at various experiences of adolescence through adult eyes, in order to understand the impact that different systems have on our development.

Task 3 - group activity

Ask learners to discuss in small groups some of the factors in each part of the system that influence development during adolescence; or complete as a whiteboard exercise. Then ask learners to complete the following.

Question - Think back on your own adolescence. Reflect on the people, the systems, the issues and values that influenced you. Look again at the previously listed risk and protective factors and consider how you were affected by these. Note down your thoughts about the items in the list below.
  • developmental stages
  • socio-economic status
  • culture
  • gender
  • sexuality
  • educational background
  • family background
  • physical attributes
  • peer culture
  • cohort
  • interests
  • local community issues
  • broader societal issues
Top of pageOther issues that could be considered include:
  • Excitement at impending 'freedom'/autonomy from parents
  • New social/family responsibilities
  • Sexual discovery and experimentation
  • Thinking about career choices and future
  • Confusion of roles and expectations
  • Love, relationships and forming partnerships
  • Search for personal identity (Who am I?)
  • Physical changes to body
  • Fear of unknown
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Not fitting in due to cultural differences
  • A time of rebellion
  • Having great times with friends.

Some common themes

Brainstorm exercise

Ask learners to brainstorm answers to the following question: What are some of the common themes or experiences that mark the progress to adulthood?

Exercise answers

Some common themes that we all experience as we progress to adulthood are as follows:
  • As we move into adulthood what we once considered to be embarrassing or traumatic will become less so. This reflects the growing maturity and experience that enable us to develop better coping strategies.

  • Although young people need to work through some key developmental stages, each individual's experience is unique. Another common theme for the young person is everything that is happening in their life is important and real.

  • While all young people undergo immense physical, emotional and psychological changes, the way an individual processes these changes can vary greatly, as can their strategies for coping (or in some cases, not coping).

  • Despite the stressful times that are an inevitable part of being a young person and the feelings of hopelessness that many may display, it is important to remember that most people manage to survive adolescence and progress to adulthood
(Adapted from Towers, 1998)

Refer to overhead transparency 3.
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Overhead transparencies

Overhead transparency 1

  • Young people are normal
  • 'Youth' is a social construction
  • Young people are not an homogenous group
  • Young people participate actively.

Overhead transparency 2

Other factors that influence young people:
  • Developmental states
  • Socio-economic status
  • Culture
  • Gender
  • Sexuality
  • Educational background
  • Family background
  • Physical attributes
  • Peer culture
  • Cohort
  • Interests

Overhead transparency 3

  • Although there are some key developmental stages young people need to work through, each individual's experience is unique. Another common theme for the young person is everything that is happening in their life is important and real.
  • Young people undergo immense physical, emotional and psychological changes. However, the way an individual processes these changes can vary greatly.