Making Meaning of Risk: Exploring Resilient Adolescents’ Interpretations of the Impact of Negative Life Experiences

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Making Meaning of Risk: Exploring Resilient Adolescents’ Interpretations of the Impact of Negative Life Experiences

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Title: Making Meaning of Risk: Exploring Resilient Adolescents’ Interpretations of the Impact of Negative Life Experiences
Author: D'Sa, Nikhit ORCID  0000-0002-7118-5386
Citation: D'Sa, Nikhit. 2015. Making Meaning of Risk: Exploring Resilient Adolescents’ Interpretations of the Impact of Negative Life Experiences. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
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Abstract: Our understanding of the relationship between risk factors and resilience has been framed primarily by probability. Resilience has been conceptualized as “beating the odds”: doing better than our statistical predictions would expect given the amount of risk the individual has faced. Undoubtedly, this research has offered a rich picture into trajectories of psychosocial development. However, it has limited our exploration of the mechanisms that explain why risk factors result in resilience. Context-driven work exploring these mechanisms has been limited by the subjective nature of risk factors. In order to extend our understanding of risk factors and resilience we have to understand the difference between actual and statistical risk; we have to understand how individuals make meaning of risk factors within the different ecological systems in their lives. In this study I explore how 38 inner-city charter school youth (ages 16-21) make meaning of self-identified negative life experiences. The school serves youth who have previously dropped out or have been expelled from high school. Additionally, the youth at this school reported a high level of risk factors by most objective standards. Using a mix of narrative writing and interviews, I explored (1) what events the youth self-reported as being detrimental, (2) what themes emerged in the youth’s discussion of the impact of these experiences, and (3) what discourses the youth used in discussing the impact of a particularly persistent experience: the loss of a biological parent. My analysis revealed that the youth framed their meaning around three questions: why have I been affected, how do I make sense of it, and what has changed in my life? In doing this they tried to create new meaning of negative life events, sometimes by internalizing or redefining life experiences. I discuss how meaning-making could be a constructivist mechanism that helps engender resilience; resilience could be explained by the ease with which the discrepancy between global meaning (i.e., schema that orients our understanding of the world) and situational meaning (of a stressful event) is resolved. I discuss the implications of this theory-generating work for future research and school-based practice.
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Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:16461033
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