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Headlines Published on 21 October 2008

Title Leisure time helps shape youth identity

Experts say youth identity is shaped by a number of factors, like education, economy and social contacts. But researchers at the Academy of Finland Research Programme on Social Capital and Networks of Trust (SoCa) postulate that how children spend their leisure time can also affect the formation of their youth identity.

Hobbies help children get social © Shutterstock
Hobbies help children get social
© Shutterstock

'Children and youth seem to choose their hobbies based on their personal traits and social relationships,' Professor Helena Helve from the University of Kuopio explained. '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.'

The aim of the project was to determine how family ties and social networks enhance social capital. For this project, the SoCa team assessed the family ties and social networks of youths from different cultural backgrounds and circumstances. Professor Helve, who was project coordinator, said their findings showed that today's parents are more inclined to listen to their children and 'explain their rules of parenting by means of discussion'.

A key facet of the project was the assessment of identity formation amongst girls with immigrant backgrounds. Talks on immigration in Finland have shown that people in general have a low opinion of immigrant girls. But the social networks of these girls tend to move past the Finnish borders, the researchers found.

'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,' Professor Helve commented.

The SoCa project also focused on minority youths with a religious character, a topic that is not typically assessed. Based on the team's findings, the social capital within a religious community supports children and youth's own socialisation. The researchers said that a home upbringing transfers a religious identity especially 'within the frame of reference of a religious minority'.

The research showed that both ethnicity and religion play key roles in the formation of youth identity and social capital. Yes, family ties and friendships help shape youth identity, but children and youth also develop their own individual values that vary from those of their parents. The children's background community not only develops a child's individual identity, but it is also a factor in the development of group identity and social identity.

'Social capital has been researched extensively, but not, however, in terms of its importance to children and youth,' Professor Helve remarked. 'Our research project has indeed been significant in the sense that it generates new knowledge on youth development.'

More information:

  • Academy of Finland
  • University of Kuopio

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