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Understanding Youth Resilience by Leveraging the Youth Development Study Archive

Mortimer, Jeylan T., Dominique J. Rolando, and Carol Zierman

Key formative experiences have the potential to influence the movement of young people through the transition to adulthood. Positive experiences promote resilience and success among at-risk youth; negative experiences can derail youth who are doing well at the outset of this transition. Taking a holistic and person-centered approach, we leverage data from the Youth Development Study, which followed 1,139 St. Paul youth from the ninth grade to age 38 (with 19 surveys).
First, we identify youth who exhibit constellations of attributes indicating greater or lesser age-specific “success” in middle adolescence (ages 14–15), late adolescence (ages 17–18), and early adulthood (ages 26–27). In middle and late adolescence, more successful youth had higher grades, educational aspirations, and intrinsic school motivation; they avoided smoking and alcohol use. The more successful young adults were employed, economically self-sufficient, making progress toward their career goals, and satisfied with their jobs, and they lacked physical and emotional problems.
Second, we trace shifts between the more and less successful classes as respondents moved from middle to late adolescence and from late adolescence to adulthood. Though the majority of youth were “stable,” considerable movement occurred between classes.
Finally, we describe key formative experiences and characteristics that distinguished adolescents who moved from the less to the more successful class (showing “resilience”), from middle to late adolescence, from those who stayed in the less successful class. These experiences included positive parent and teacher relationships and conscientiousness in school. Positive experiences during adolescence also predicted resilience during early adulthood. Key protective factors emerged in early adulthood: a teacher/professor who influenced the youth’s career goals and delayed childbearing.
We conclude that the quality of family and peer relationships, and specific experiences in school and work settings, differentiate youth exhibiting more and less positive trajectories. Because the quality of adolescent experiences continues to influence trajectories during the transition to adulthood, it is especially important to address deficiencies in adolescent contexts. The research upon which this article is based was supported by a grant from CURA’s Faculty Interactive Research Program.

CURA Reporter
Publication date: 
Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, University of Minnesota
Faculty Interactive Research Program
47 (1): 10-17
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Reporter 47 (1)