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Adolescence, Risk and Resilience: Against the odds.

Adolescence, Risk and Resilience: Against the odds John Coleman and Ann Hagell (eds) John Wiley & Sons 2007 205 pages 19.99 [pounds sterling]

Intelligent young people rebelling against cultural standards and a young man's suicide over an unrequited love are just two themes that emerged in a German literature movement in the late 18th century entitled Sturm und Drang (storm and stress). Encapsulating much about the anxieties of young men at that time, Hall (1904) elaborated this theme by arguing that human development emulated evolution, with adolescence representing the difficult period in history when civilisation emerged. Despite a lack of empirical evidence, Hall's ideas came to dominate scientific research, theory and folk psychology. Recently, however, the concept of resilience has become more central as more research has indicated that equating adolescence with storm and stress overstates the case, since the majority of young people manage to cope well. Therefore, this book aims to explore, in depth, the concepts of risk and resilience.

The editors argue that the concept of risk has many definitions and not all of them are necessarily negative. Further, resilience is not only about an adolescent coping, but also has to be viewed in the context of the adversity that has to be overcome. Consequently, the book comprises a collection of chapters by different authors based around themes considered to represent potential adversity for adolescents: families, mental ill-health, offending behaviour, sexual risk, disability, being looked after and social exclusion. The book aims to show how such difficulties can affect adolescents, to understand better the challenges facing those who are most at risk and to identify possible protective factors that promote positive adjustment.

One of the strengths of the book is the attention given to some of the wider contextual factors, such as the influence of societies and communities on vulnerable adolescents. For example, the number of 16-year-olds remaining in full-time education and moving on to university has increased considerably since 1980, which has resulted in fewer jobs for 18- to 25-year-olds being created. Social changes of this sort are more likely to affect those who have to face more adversity. Therefore, a key message is that researchers need to focus on such larger contextual factors in predicting outcomes as they can override individual factors such as behaviour and temperament. This point is made particularly well in the chapters on anti-social behaviour (Ann Hagell) and on social exclusion, risk and young adulthood (Robert MacDonald).

Another strength is that there is an attempt to link theory to practice. For example, Panos Vostanis suggests ways that society can better promote mental health and prevent difficulties by changing policy and defining clearer agency roles. Suggestions are also made on how to improve specialist mental health services for adolescents, including the welcome recognition that more research is needed on older adolescents in order to improve the transition from Child and Adolescent to Adult Mental Health Services (CAMHS). That said, this chapter missed an opportunity to highlight the role society plays in outcomes for adolescents with mental health difficulties, such as the detrimental impact of stigma and prejudice.

The messages of the book are brought together in the concluding chapter. Here, Coleman and Hagell argue that resilience should be viewed as a process rather than an outcome, as this will illuminate the ways that the spectrum of risk and protective factors interact, echoing some of Michael Rutter's work. They also warn against viewing resilience as a personality trait, in order to prevent those unable to overcome adversity being viewed negatively. In addition, the editors argue for resilience to be viewed as a dynamic rather than a static process that may be unavailable at one point in a lifecycle but become active at another as protective factors present themselves. Finally, they outline three strategies for the reduction of risk and enhancement of resilience: (1) reducing the young person's exposure to risk; (2) interrupting the chain reaction of negative events associated with particular types of adversity; and (3) enhancing protective factors. Their conclusion echoes the recovery paradigm (National Institute for Mental Health in England, 2004) which is influencing work on severe mental illness, that professionals will achieve more for young people who experience adversity if they emphasise their strengths and capabilities rather than their weaknesses.


Hall G S, Adolescence: Its psychology and its relations to physiology, anthropology, sociology, sex, crime, religion and education, New York, NY: Appleton, 1904

National Institute for Mental Health in England (NIMHE), Emerging Best Practices in Mental Health Recovery,

Victoria Green is a trainee clinical psychologist, University of Leeds
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Author:Green, Victoria
Publication:Adoption & Fostering
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2008
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