Ruby Madigan and Kate Tilleczek – Listening to the voices of youth in transition

To say that the modern world moves at a rapid pace is reductive, if not a bit clichéd.

Technology evolves almost by the day, leaving even the savviest techno connoisseur wondering if they really need another version of the same telephone. We race to keep up and then wait breathlessly for the next goal line to be set.

And the stakes continue to rise. The New York Times reports that the pressure to achieve, combined with carefully crafted social media personas, is increasingly driving youth in the United States to suicide. The picture the article paints, however, is incomplete.

Voices from HEQCO’s March 23-24, 2016 conference: Transitions: Learning across borders, sectors and silos
Voices from HEQCO’s March 23-24, 2016 conference: Transitions: Learning across borders, sectors and silos

There is an abundance of scholarship regarding modernity, as well as our youth’s seemingly precarious position within this context; however, this scholarship tends to overlook and undervalue the thoughts, feedback and reflections of the very people it’s trying to understand. As adults, parents and educators, we worry about our youth’s mental health. We’re concerned about over-exposure to technology, both for what it does to their brains and to their thought processes.

But what is it, exactly, that our children and youth are concerned with?

What do they struggle with and how are they faring in this modern world? How do they define their challenges and successes? How can we better hear them and work together to assist them as they transition and flourish in adulthood?

These are just a handful of the questions the Young Lives Research Lab (YLRL) seeks to address. Founded in 2009 and located at the University of Prince Edward Island, the YLRL is an interdisciplinary and international community, composed of teams of scholars and students who focus on youth studies. The lab is dedicated to creating a space for and by youth voices within youth research.

Also housed within the YLRL community and located at the university, is the Canada Research Chair Qualitative Research Lab where we conduct the largest portion of our data collection and analysis. Equipped with cutting-edge data mining and analysis software, transcription tools, audio and video recorders, professional video equipment, and editing software, computers and much more, the lab serves as a collaborative space where researchers and students who are using qualitative methods can utilize our equipment, as well as our expertise.

Our scholarship focuses on three key areas of interest to youth studies: technology, mental health and re-imagining public education, as well as contributing to emerging theory and methodologies. It is within these contexts that we begin to invite all youth and children into the larger conversations taking place about and around them.

In keeping with our mission of youth inclusion, our research seeks to address these key issues while maintaining a constant and open ear to what it is our youth are identifying and interpreting. One way we sought to extend an invitation over this past year is through the use of technology itself.

Completed in partnership with the Mi’kmaq Confederacy of Prince Edward Island, the Digital Storytelling project provided Aboriginal youth with film equipment, as well as video editing software training to use in telling a story about their experiences with digital media and mental health.  The youth involved in the project have continued to share their newly gained practical knowledge with peers and have expressed an interest in continuing to produce films that highlight important issues within their communities.

Also of note is the expansive Digital Media project. Designed to examine the impact of technology on young lives, this project spans three countries – Canada, Australia and Scotland – and is spread over five years. Innovation is required given the challenges of social media data collection and secure data transfer between countries, as well as keeping contemporary with the ever-evolving world of technology.

Finally, the longitudinal ACCESS Mental Health (AMH) project is examining the pathways into and out of the mental health care system in Canada. It covers four provinces in Atlantic Canada, and is being conducted in partnership with Memorial University, St. Mary’s University, and the University of New Brunswick. The AMH team is speaking to service providers, parents and children to gain insight into what quality mental health services are available for youth and children in Atlantic Canada, as well as how youth, parents and care providers are currently accessing the system.

Because, after all, if we don’t ask . . .

Kate Tilleczek is a full professor and SSHRC-funded Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Young Lives in Global and Local Contexts, and director of the Young Lives Research Lab at the University of Prince Edward Island. Ruby Madigan is a research associate and lab manager in the Young Lives Research Lab.

Our opinion is that the opinions expressed by our guest bloggers are their opinions, and not necessarily those of HEQCO.

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