Friday, December 18, 2015

Theories of Adolescent Identity Development

Identity in Context--
Nakkula and Toshalis
You can find this text here

Identity development theories describe processes and stages that one goes through in determining "me now" and "me I want to be". Through a series of positive and negative experiences youth shape these notions. It is important to remember again that those who work with youth coauthor this perception of self, and that impact goes both ways.

The authors note four stages which a person can reside in this process (not linear):

1. ACHIEVED Identity-- represents a moment when the individual has resolved an identity crisis. There is a strong commitment to their choices. They are able to feel confident with who they are in diverse settings. Usually this stage is reached after a long period of exploration and experimentation. they have a high tolerance for criticism. Self-control and autonomy are characteristics of this stage.

2. FORECLOSED Identity-- describes walking on a path unconsciously. This person makes choices with little exploration, experimentation, or critical thinking. Often these ideas come from outside pressure and forces asserting what they should believe and do. Predetermined expectations of themselves are accepted with considering alternative options. This identity is a narrow-minded one, it does not welcome anything that conflicts with established beliefs, but rather relies on outside validation.

3. DIFFUSE Identity-- seems to be fueled by a state of apathy. There is no crisis or commitment from the individual. Though little exploration is done in forming an identity, they are the most subjective to outside influence. These people often change beliefs and life paths very often and impulsively. They tend to adapt to those around them. Self confidence and decision-making fluctuate in extremes. Because they are context dependent, they have a hard time distinguishing the boundaries between their setting and themselves.

4. MORATORIUM-- describes a state of constant exploration and testing one's environment, but resulting in zero commitment to any one path or belief system. While in this stage, people seek stability in the world around them because of anxiety fueled by lacking sense of self. Often they imagine what it would be like to choose different roles, based on models in the their current life. The most significant point to this stage is that although it is an anxious one, the person is researching. This means that they have reasoning as to why they are choosing to be whomever they choose. Although experimentation is often not in depth, they are actively searching.

Why are Stories Important?

The Construction of Adolescence--
Nakkula and Toshalis

“We do not construct our life stories on our own.  We are, rather, in a constant state of co-creating who we are with the people with whom we are in closest connection and within those contexts that hold the most meaning for our day to day existence.”

Through this text, the authors demonstrate how important context is in your everyday life, and of course your professional life as well. Everybody has a story, and everyone has unconscious preconceived notions when judging others. The truth is that you can't judge a book by its cover. Human are complex and many forces have shaped their current state of being.

This is especially significant when working with youth, as this is the most vulnerable time of a persons life in regards to shaping views and beliefs. Youth rely on their experiences, and through this method they test the world around them. Professionals in this field that don't take the time to understand the personal stories of youth will be not make an effective impact in their work. Assuming things about youth is not acceptable. Reaching a certain level of understanding will generate trust and respect in your relationships with youth. This is an absolutely essential piece that many skip over. You cannot just treat symptoms, you must understand the causes and forces of the resulting present state of the child. Avoiding the acknowledgement of youth with difficult stories is an unconsciously devastating action. As you will reinforce the resistance between yourself, others like you, and youth. The self-fulling prophecy echoes from many youth settings, especially loud in public education systems. The hidden curriculum, the school to prison pipeline have become the status quo. Color, sex, class, and gender blindness needs to be replaced with cultural competence and appreciation. Obedience and repetition of facts, needs to replaced with critical thinking.

While youth try to make sense of who they are and what their possible future looks like, our interactions with youth absolutely coauthor these ideas whether we do it consciously or not. The authors argue that the the distance between educators and youth is perpetuated by the high demands and structure of a school environment. Does this help the situation? Absolutely not. Is it a rational excuse for why you cannot understand the stories of youth in your classroom? No, professionals need to be held accountable, there is no excuse, it is a nonnegotiable part of your job.

Many have coauthored my story: (the most obvious and immediate) mother, father, sister, cousins, grandfather, grandmother, and friends. But also teachers, journalists, philosophers, scientists, musicians, coworkers, police, authority figures, even strangers and homeless people, and probably many more that I am unaware of still. 

Most interesting though was growing up with my grandmother. I should probably preface this with the fact that I wasn't the most impressionable child, When I was really young, I seemed to already have this deeply rooted sense of self and the world. Of course that is ever- evolving and massive shifts have taken place. But, growing up I was the kid who always got in trouble, breaking rules on purpose. My grandmother and I never ever got along. I spent many days at her house while my mother was at work. I'll admit, there's a 9/10 chance that I was probably guilty in the first degree for whatever she was accusing me of --BUT I swear it absolutely delighted her to watch me live out my punishment. I felt that power dynamic, and constantly tried to set it off balance. The more she disciplined me, the harder I fought back. It was clear in my mind early on that this was an enemy not an ally. There was no respect or trust between us. She would praise my younger sister for her obedience and good grades, and used her light to make my shadow seem darker. She would tell me I was a troublemaker and that God wouldn't let me go to heaven and that I was going to lead an unsuccessful life of misery. Though she persisted in trying, she could not instill fear in me, I didn't feel obligated to adhere to her personal criteria or religious standards.

While I did walk some dark paths as a teenager, luckily she was wrong. I have disproved almost every threatening prediction she pushed on me. And success is the best revenge.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Mindfulness Practice with Youth

(learn more by visiting their website below)

Resilient Kids is an organization that promotes mindfulness as a necessary part of a child's day at home or at school. Especially for youth this is important, as boundless energies tend to build not breakdown. The western world lives in a culture that rewards non-stop activity and hard work. While those can be good things, we are not meant to live in a constant state of stress induced production, rushing from one thing to the next.

Human beings, especially youth, need time to pause and let the chaos in their brain settle, reflect and then recollect. Equipping youth with the tools to have more control over their own minds and bodies is a priceless lesson.


The great thing about meditation is not only that it has filing cabinets full of research asserting its benefits, but also that it is free. You don't have to be making six figures to have access to mindfulness and meditation, in fact you don't need any money at all to reap the benefits. 


This is an awesome idea to help youth with mindfulness practices. This gives them something tangible that can guide their meditation, and help calm nervous energy. Its purpose can be invented ! But I find it useful to use each bead as a counting mechanism or to repeat positive affirmations, touching each bead as you go. You could use each bead to represent something your grateful for. Make it your own!                                                                                                                                                                       (click here to get DIY instructions)                                                                                                                                                                                 

I've taught mindfulness and simple breathing techniques to groups of children as young as three years old, and they not only mastered it, they transformed the activity. Even when kids are this young, deep-breathing and time for self-reflection became something they begged me to do everyday. "Miss Donna, when can we do yogurt (yoga) on the rug today?!". Although they are not conscious of its exact intentions or benefits, I can see the classroom energy changing. I watch as youth fought over a Frisbee, and instead of tears or hitting, or immediately running to me to solve the issue, --I see them stop themselves walk away from the group and start breathing. This is power, to both be in-tune with and manage your emotions. Gaining control over your mind, taking charge of your well-being, and critical reflection are the products of meditation practice. Youth can benefit from this immensely as they form their identities.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

*Berkeley has published great research on the benefits and before and after results from studying youth engaging in mindfulness at school. They state:

" increasing number of studies have shown the potential benefits of mindfulness practices for students’ physical health, psychological well-being, social skills, academic performance, and more. Other studies have indicated that mindfulness may be effective for reducing stress and burnout in teachers and administrators as well."

The Danger of a Single Story

TED Talk: The Danger of a Single Story--
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

"It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about powerThere is a word, an Igbo word,that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is 'nkali'. Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali: How they are told, who tells them, when they're told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on powerPower is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person."

She makes me think about a saying I really love --"when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change." We as human beings forget the role that perspective plays in this world. And also, most don't really understand the danger in storytelling that is (often intentionally) not representative or accurate. I find western society to be predominately fear-based. Not only does this fear isolate people from authentic human connection, but it reinforces a resistance to what is not like them. Where these two issues meet is the most dangerous recipe of all. That is, when people rely on a news channel, or social media group to get stories, condition their own beliefs accordingly and also not ever venture into the world of a stranger. And quite frankly, if you never leave your town, then how will you know what the world is really like? I suppose blind faith in movie scripts and news channels is your only option if that's the case. 

Language is a massively underrated tool of power. The same story can be told, hitting all the same facts and points, but depending on the storyteller, words and framing can be manipulated to produce stories that paint starkly different pictures . We must consider always with everything we hear: Who is telling the story? What are their self-interests in this story? What is motivating them tell it? What are their identity and beliefs ? What are they trying to convince me of? Why? 

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and I'm entitled to disagree with it. And I do think certain lenses are more righteous than others. To take one opinion, listen to one story, watch one movie, meet one person, and use that to apply it to a larger group is problematic. You will be left with a narrow-minded view of the world. This is the thinking, or lack of thinking rather, which fuels discrimination and stereotypes of any kind.

This sort of storytelling is especially impressionable upon youth, as they are still constructing their beliefs about the world, it is important that professionals working with youth are self-aware of their own identities and also resist to stereotypes of youth populations. Understanding someone's authentic story, as told by them, is worth its weight in gold. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

UN Headquarters: A Global Perspective On Youth

As a part of my INGO program of study, we organized a trip a to the United Nations NYC headquarters this fall. My excitement was as intense as my curiosity. I have been studying the UN as an organ of massive power through which nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have increasingly gained access and legitimacy from, to generate social change on a global scale.

Getting to wander about inside such a heavily guarded and powerful organization was all it took to envision myself navigating my way down each hallway, in front of a podium addressing the leaders of this world. Talk about a daydream.

I could write a thesis paper's worth of words about my criticisms of the UN and the unethical way they operate in the developing world.  It is pretty evident that NGOs have produced more righteous, sustainable and ethical change, globally speaking, than the UN's programs. While they have done some good, I am more interested in this agency as a tool, and a partner.

This agency is complex and works in regards to many issues all over the world. Specifically, I was interested in The Convention on The Rights of a Child and UNICEF. Through this UN run program they are working on issues that involve: child protection, child survival, development, access to education, gender equality. They tackle major issues affecting millions of children in the developing world. Through partnerships they work directly with youth, and also advocate and lobby for policy change.

Through their campaigns they fight to give young girls & women a voice:
(below is 16- year old Mani Djelassem Virgille @ the UN, speaking as an advocate for the youth in her country Chad --one of many that are experiencing an AIDS epidemic). 

UNICEF and the UN also complete and submit research and act as a watchdog/ monitoring agency (among others) for children. Here they discuss the situation in parts of Africa where children are dying at an inexcusable rate from the intense poverty they live in, who are unable to get access to basic human rights

".......500 children die every day from lack of safe water and sanitation in sub-Saharan Africa" Check out this press release published last week:  


Check this out......

Their vision for the year 2030

"The Power of the Adolescent Girl"

Sunday, October 4, 2015

How Do You See Race?

TED Talk: Color blind or color brave? --
Mellody Hobson

In this TED talk, Mellody Hobson discusses race inequality and asks us to change the way we look at racial issues. She is wise to first point out that in order to solve any problem, you must first be aware of it. Awareness is key before action can take place. As she mentions, it is a topic which most of us don't like engaging in. What is so important is the lens we use when looking at racial disparities. An individual's personal identity shapes how they view any issue. How are people affected differently, based on who they are? Who is benefiting from the status quo and who is suffering? A successful solution depends on the way in which we acknowledge and frame racial issues. You cannot change what you don't see.

And so, this is why being color blind is so problematic. Often with good intention people will say they don't see skin color. This is another way of saying, I don't recognize your heritage, culture or country of origin --these things about you are not valuable. It also seems like an easy way to avoid an awkward conversation of privilege and oppression. But by handling the issue in this way, it is only perpetuating and even further fueling racial issues. If we keep pretending to be color blind, we won't be able to solve the problem, it will be invisible, just like that perspective.

I wish she had spoke more about white privilege. I think this is what makes it so hard for white people to come to terms with racial disparity, which is institutionally evident and statistically proven --indeed you cannot argue with numbers. So if it's proven, then why can't we address the issue? Because you cannot acknowledge oppression without recognizing the other side of the coin, which is white privilege. In order to solve systemic racial issues, we must address, accept, and give up, our privilege. I think most don't want to give that up. But it is literally impossible for one to be present in society without the other. It is only in their shared relationship that both can exist. Like, "night and day" or "up and down". This is like critical thinking 101, it shouldn't be so hard to see.
But the real problem is that we don't want to see it. I think it would be hard for most people to disagree with, let's say for instance, something like improving a playground at an inner-city school. Helping those who have less, great right? We're all on board with that kind of chairty. So what's the problem? When they realize that this will inherently compromise the superior education package their son receives, based on his white middle-class identity --all of a sudden, the playground project becomes much easier to ignore. We're afraid to give up our privileges for the sake of equality for all. So, what is more uncomfortable than talking about racial discrimination? Talking about your white privilege that is an unearned perk of being born white. Now that's embarrassing.

The ways in which I have felt invisible are not many. I cannot say I have ever personally felt invisible but this is probably due to my dominant race, upbringing, and outspoken personality. I always make sure I'm heard. Doesn't mean everyone likes what I have to say, but I say it anyway, especially if it's something I'm "not supposed to talk about" over thanksgiving dinner. Oh, you'd like to have a political debate? I thought you'd never ask! ...pass the green bean casserole please. Nothing like schooling my 60 year old chauvinist uncle in a feminist theory speaking to the effects of globalization on poor women and children in the developing world. And Speaking of gender inequality, though my voice is loud, I have felt invisible, underrepresented as well as misrepresented, in terms of being a female. Everything from childhood superheroes to seats in legislation, society has taught me that girls are lesser, weaker, submissive, not smart, and not leaders, but rather a good-looking damsel in distress. Luckily my mother, much like Hobson, had been making me see my power and worth since day one. I am grateful for that, not everyone has a role model or mentor in this way.

Not seeing race is disrespectful and ignorant, and certainly not an effective solution to deal with racial issues. Taking race away from an individual means not seeing that person accurately, honestly or in their entirety. Being color blind is purposely ignoring a significant part of someone, and therefore devaluing what that part represents or brings to the table. In society in general, it slows progress. Hobson discusses research which proves that diversity within companies and organizations have led to massive innovative and successful achievement. And that is the lens in which we must look at race through. Not blindness, but braveness. Diversity as a competitive advantage of any venture. She makes a wonderful point by saying if we invite those who are not like us, into our lives, this is often how we grow and learn, by being challenged or presented with perspectives that are not our own.

Nonprofits like Youth in Action, are organizations which uphold this believe in the success and power of diversity. They serve as a platform and facilitator to instill value in the voice of youth. Here, they are represented, they are able to challenge societal norms and policies. Debate is encouraged, and everyone's opinions and insight valued equally. YIA is not afraid of talking critically about uncomfortable topics, this is so important. They work together, and acknowledge each person as an essential piece that keeps the organization functioning. Organizations like these operate much under the saying "be the change", in terms of setting the example of what they think a fair community looks like, where all are welcome and appreciated.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Youth Development Ideology

As youth development is a massive umbrella that encompasses so many diverse avenues of work, this helped me to breakdown the three general directions that the professional may pursue.

1. Risk, Resiliency & Prevention 
2. Positive Youth Development
3. Critical Youth Development
(These ideologies are explained here)

Overwhelmingly, according to these guidelines, my values seem to lie in Critical Youth Development, not too far behind was Positive Development. Risk Resiliency & Prevention consistently received the lowest rank in each category.

This was kind of surprising, as I imagined myself working with at-risk youth. In fact as of lately, its been drawing me in  more than anything else, in terms of youth populations, and internships in RI. So initially I was confused, as "Risk" was a term used to categorize this particular theory, but after looking at the core beliefs, it makes sense.

Although I do want to work with teens and do recognize the reality of these issues such as pregnancy, drug abuse, violence ---the values and perspectives described do not match my own. I can't help but think that they are blaming the individuals for these "epidemics" and with no consideration or fault to external forces, media, or systems etc. Private trouble solutions will not solve public issuesTo assume they don't have the capacity to make good choices for themselves is something I completely disagree with. I tend to believe more that everyone makes the best decision with the knowledge and resources they have at that moment. And youth who are living in challenging situations, with limited resources, no doubt feel pressure in some form, coming from their outside world, which obviously impacts their decisions. Do I blame them? Not really. Do they need guidance? Sure, doesn't everyone? But they are not incapable. I think the issue lies less with the individual and more with society, and the difficult environments we've created that they live in, and that's not their fault. Their choices reflect the inherent inequality and disadvantages they face.  It is not a coincidence these "epidemics" are more prevalent in poor, oppressed, resource-less communities.

Critical Youth Development seems best fitting, so I am happy with the results of that. This perspective seems to align strongly, in regards to my beliefs about youth work. It also seems like this avenue of work is well suited to address issues from the top, and initiate social change within larger systems, policy and legislation.