A group of South African adolescents' subjective experience of participation in an eco-adventure programme : a strengths perspective
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The concept of eco-adventure programmes (EAP’s) have been in existence for decades and have seen an increase in popularity in recent years. The ultimate goal of EAP’s is considered to be bringing about positive and lasting changes in the lives of participants through several nature based adventure activities. This shows a strong conceptual overlap with the psychological strengths perspective, which can be described as a theoretical framework that focuses on the facilitation of optimal human functioning through the proactive development of psychological strengths. In an attempt to understand or identify character strengths on an individual level and monitor its growth and development, the Values in Action (VIA) classification system was developed by Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson. This qualitative phenomenological study focused on describing the subjective experiences of a group of male adolescents during their participation in an EAP from a strengths perspective. Data for this study was collected through reflective diaries and focus group discussions. All 31 of these male participants completed daily reflective diaries for 5 days of the 7-day programme, and 16 participants were identified through systematic sampling to participate in two focus group discussions. Themes were identified through inductive analysis, which was followed by a deductive comparison of themes with the VIA classification system for character strengths. According to the data, participants experienced the EAP as an opportunity for both intra- and interpersonal development. A rich description of development on both these levels helped to deepen our understanding of their experience. Several subthemes emerged, including participants’ developing a sense of gratitude; greater self-awareness; perseverance and physical endurance; spiritual connection; an appreciation for beauty; interpersonal understanding; the development of new or strengthening of existing relationships; and team work. When compared to the VIA classification system of character strengths it was found that the virtues of transcendence (gratitude, spirituality and appreciation of beauty), wisdom and knowledge (perspective), courage (bravery and perseverance), humanity (love, kindness and social intelligence); justice (leadership and teamwork); and temperance (self-regulation) were all represented within the results. Personal growth on both an intra- and interpersonal level were to a large extent brought about by the nature and specific demands of the EAP. While the results of the study confirm many former literature findings relating to participants’ intra- and interpersonal development, it offers a unique description of this developmental process from a psychological strengths perspective, utilizing the well-known VIA classification system. An improved understanding of the experiences of male adolescents’ participation in EAP’s can be considered extremely valuable as it can be used to bring about lasting changes with regards to building strengths in youth. It also helps us to understand the role of the adolescent developmental stage and the type of character strengths they draw upon in challenging situations. The identification of character strengths that have not been facilitated by the EAP per se, can be used to inform EAP developers of aspects to consider in programme planning. Developing character strengths seem to be especially relevant in the South African context, where the adolescent population has been identified as experiencing significant threats to their continued mental health and well-being.
- Health Sciences