Relational well-being of a group of adolescents in a South African high-risk community
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Little is known about the experience of South African adolescents’ relational well-being who are living in high-risk environments. There has been an increase in well-being research over the past three decades pointing to the importance of relational well-being for the experience of mental- and physical health toward complete well-being (Wissing, 2014). Well-being models hold that positive relations and healthy interpersonal activities are viewed as resources for well-being (Fredrickson, 2009; Keyes, 2007; Seligman, 2011). Relational well-being is viewed as a core component of well-being. Well-being is conceptualised in the domain of positive psychology, and in particular from perspectives such as Keyes’s (1998; 2005; 2007) model of psychosocial well-being. Positive relations are an indicator of high levels of well-being, called flourishing. Previous research has shown that only a small proportion of those adolescents otherwise free of a common mental disorder can be classified as truly mentally healthy and flourishing. Studies have shown that lower levels of well-being could imply grave challenges for relational well-being, and create further risk conditions in terms of the behaviours associated with living in a high-risk environment. The varied South African landscape of socio-economic contexts greatly influences the development of children (Guse & Vermaak, 2011). These differences as to context during developmental phases may also affect the prevalence and dynamics of social well-being and thus the interaction of adolescents with their community (Keyes, 2007). This study aims to contribute to scientific knowledge that may fill the gap between what is known and what is needed to enhance the relational well-being of adolescents who are living in a high-risk community. This study includes three sub-studies of which the results are reported in three articles. The aim of the first article was to conceptualise relational well-being within the South African context. The article describes relational well-being by taking a closer look at the four levels of connectedness, which is the i) intrapersonal, ii) interpersonal, iii) societal, and iv) spiritual/religious levels. These dimensions represent complex dynamics, since all relating is eco-systemically embedded. Furthermore, general insight and descriptions of relational well-being and associated constructs such as relational qualities and social ecologies were included to describe relational functioning within the parameters of well-being as relating and interacting with self, others, community, and God/higher being. The second article aimed to establish via multiple methods the levels of a group of South African adolescents’ well-being (quantitative research), and, to qualitatively explore adolescents’ experiences of relational well-being within the context of a high-risk environment. South African studies indicate that adolescents who are exposed to enduring poverty are more at risk to develop mental health problems. Adolescent learners from three secondary schools (N=808 quantitative study) took part in this study. Participants were Grade 8 learners between 12 and 15 years old. Quantitative findings indicate that most adolescent learners, i.e., 56%, do not experience high levels of well-being. Qualitative findings show that adolescents’ relational well-being is seriously restricted. It was also found that, although African adolescents have higher scores with regard to social well-being than psychological well-being - indicating their strengths as to connectedness and communal living - the “Ubuntu”, birth right does not guarantee relational competence. The aim of the third article was to present guidelines, to both protect and to promote adolescents’ relational well-being (RWB). In other words, the article proposes guidelines that could serve as a blueprint for well-being programmes to enhance adolescents’ relational functioning. These guidelines are offered as a strategy to facilitate the enhancement of relational well-being through focussing, first on specific facets of the notion of RWB as found in existing literature, and research findings revealing a group of adolescents’ perceptions of relational functioning; the influence of significant role-players such as friends, family, community and educators; the role of emotions and coping with negative relational functioning/interacting; relational functioning within a high-risk community dealing with positive experiences of support within the high-risk community and also negative threats as to relational functioning in the high-risk community; second, how relational well-being can fortify adolescents’ personal resources, and the mastering of specific interpersonal skills which should be applied on a daily basis. The inclusion or integration of character strengths is recommended, since there is growing evidence which shows that certain strengths of character e.g., kindness, self-regulation and wisdom (perspective), are closely linked to RWB, and can fortify relational health against the negative effects of stressful interacting and traumatic experiences. Positive relations and healthy interrelatedness is of vital importance for adolescents, especially since relational competencies in this development phase hold the key towards successful connections (intimate relationships; connecting at work) as adolescents as well as future adults. Findings of this study indicate that positive relational functioning implies healthy interconnectedness with significant role-players, such as family, friends, educators and community-members. The importance of being able to talk to especially friends, or family members toward constructive coping when dealing with intense negative emotions, for example anger and disappointment, was evident. Furthermore, the role of culture was clearly demonstrated, and it is recommended that context and culture should never be overlooked when considering guidelines to enhance adolescents’ relational well-being. Another important aspect to note is that these findings may have further implications for therapy and policies on health promotion from a preventative perspective, since this research offers valuable information as a bottom-up approach toward future interventions and/or well-being programmes. This study contributes to the relational well-being of adolescents living in high-risk communities, by giving them “a voice”. While the impact of a high-risk community cannot be disregarded, information was gathered to eventually protect and promote the relational well-being of these adolescents versus a focus on the remedial or mainly therapeutic side of the psychological coin. The study also presented the application of theory on a practical level, and in so doing, contributes to the immense need within the positive approach of psychology to fortify the strengths and address the risks of adolescents’ relational well-being.
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