Re-storying vulnerability: young people's narratives of 'hard times'

There is an increasing body of evidence, and growing public concern, about the well-being and mental health of children and young people in the UK.

EDU - re-storying vulnerability project

Project aims

  • To provide insight into young people’s efforts to support themselves and solve problems and the forms of support they find helpful.
  • To provide insight into young people’s sense-making around adversity and their preferred ways of thinking and talking about these experiences.
  • To develop a digital archive of stories which can be accessed by other young people, parents, professionals etc through a digital resource.
  • To consider ways of privileging young people's voices within educational spaces.

There is a growing body of evidence that young people are struggling with aspects of contemporary UK culture: social media, the pressure to 'perform' and 'achieve' consistently and publicly, in the context of an increasingly hypersexualised culture where oppressive ideas about body-image pre-dominate.

Financial and social adversity in families is also becoming more prevalent, often in localised areas: it is now widely accepted that adversity in families, in the form of inequality and discrimination, impacts directly upon young people as well as indirectly through the stress experienced by their parents and carers.

At the same time, there is an acknowledged lack of infrastructure and resources in mental health services to deal with the increasing number of referrals of distressed children and young people (UNCRC, 3rd June 2016).

We, in the Re-storying Vulnerability research group, believe research is urgently needed to understand this emerging situation and to establish the best ways of helping young people who are struggling socially and emotionally. Schools are now becoming a focus of mental-health provision.

However, as practitioners based in educational and community contexts, we question the assumption that the discourses and practices associated with ‘mental health’ are necessarily helpful, meaningful or desirable to young people experiencing distress, or for those struggling to manage difficult circumstances.

The 'Re-storying Vulnerability' research group began in June 2016 as a collaboration of professionals working with young people within educational systems: educational psychologists, clinical psychologists, teachers, arts practitioners, psychotherapists and Youth Offending Team workers. We are interested in the effects of 'transgressive', ‘vulnerability’ and 'adultist' discourses, and their positioning of those deemed to be 'vulnerable', 'transgressive', or 'not adult'.

We want to learn more about how young people respond to, and navigate, narratives about them which are shaped by arbitrary and shifting constructions of responsibility, pathology, blame and moral worth. What strategies of resistance and co-operation assist them in preserving or attaining their definition of health and well-being?

Central to our approach is our aim to research with young people: we do not wish to speak for them as we are conscious of how we might unwittingly distort their experience, and perhaps tell our own stories about them, or about ourselves, as professionals working with young people. We are also conscious of the marginalisation experienced by those who find it difficult to narrate, to articulate their voice.

With this in mind we are seeking to challenge thinking and practices which differentiate the lived experience of adversity and distress of particular groups, such as, those with significant learning difficulties and those who have become caught up in the criminal justice system.

The project will involve hearing, recording and representing young people’s narratives of their experience dealing with adverse circumstances and ‘hard times’, for example, illness (mental/physical), loss, exclusion, loneliness, stress etc.


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