New research suggests that the formation of youth identity and social capital is greatly affected by how children and youth spend their leisure time. Spare time is also more important for children today than ever before.
The formation of youth identity and social capital has been studied in a research project within the Academy of Finland Research Programme on Social Capital and Networks of Trust (SoCa).
“Children and youth seem to choose their hobbies based on their personal traits and social relationships. Their hobbies then affect their choice of education and career, even their happiness and well-being. Those with a lot of hobbies get social, cultural and identity capital for later life, which navigates them through the process of growing up,” says Research Professor Helena Helve, summing up the research project she has led within the SoCa programme.
The Academy’s multidisciplinary research programme SoCa examined the family ties and social networks of youths from varying circumstances and cultural backgrounds. The objective was to find out how family ties and social networks add to social capital. “Our research also showed that parents today listen more to their children and explain their rules of parenting by means of discussion,” says Helve.
Also in focus: immigrant girls and minority youth
Part of Helve’s research project was focused on studying identity formation among girls with immigrant backgrounds. In Finnish discussion on immigration, immigrant girls are often portrayed as having a marginal status, by emphasising their socially vulnerable position. However, the social networks of immigrant girls normally stretch far and beyond the Finnish borders, which is not often recognised. “Although it’s important that we from a cultural perspective offer the girls opportunities for leisure time, it’s just as important that we recognise the time they spend with their families as a form of civic activity,” says Helve.
One of the youth groups studied within the SoCa project was minority youths with a religious character, a fairly rare research subject in Finnish youth research. The study showed that the social capital within a religious community supports children and youth’s own socialisation. Home upbringing transfers a religious identity in particularly within the frame of reference of a religious minority.
Ethnicity and religion have strong implications for the formation of youth identities and social capital. Although they traditionally develop in the context of family ties and friendships, youth also develop their own individual values that differ from their parents’ values. Besides an individual identity, the young also form a group identity and social identity based on their background community. This then reinforces their commitment to their own minority group.
”Social capital has been researched extensively, but not, however, in terms of its importance to children and youth. Our research project has indeed been significant in the sense that it generates new knowledge on youth development,” says Helve. The research topic also produced a book, Youth and Social Capital (eds H. Helve & J. Bynner, 2007) together with Finnish and British researchers.
Anita Westerback | alfa
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