European Association for Research on Adolescence Conference
On 13-15th September the European Association for Research on Adolescence Conference was held at the University of Ghent, Belgium. On these three days there were many speeches, poster sessions, and keynotes.
Ksenia Tenisheva, Daria Khodorenko and Vera Titkova presented reports on the three main areas studied in the laboratory: risk behaviours of adolescents, emotional well-being of students at schools and network analysis of relationships among adolescents within school classes. What distinguishes this conference from others is that it is organized primarily by psychologists and therapists, and not by sociologists. And even though these fields are close and familiar to us, we were quite nervous whether we would be able to find common ground. Most studies carried out by our laboratory include an element of social psychology. Our main themes are related to studying the emotional well-being of adolescents, which corresponds with a lot of projects carried out by psychologists. We must admit that this conference turned out to be the perfect choice, both to present the results of our own research and to get some new ideas, including methods, and also to find like-minded colleagues for future collaboration. No less than half of the works presented were based on strict methodological principles, which is what we are trying to do also. Unfortunately, not all the research in sociology can boast the same approach. Psychologists often work with longitudinal data, conduct real experiments, and some of them even get access to twin research data!
This is not only very interesting but also opens up enormous opportunities for researchers to test the causality of connections, that is, an empirical definition of cause and effect.
The nature of the data dictates the choice of appropriate data analysis methods: nowhere else have we seen such a large number of great studies using structural equation modelling and sometimes various clever variations of network analysis.
In fact, all social sciences tend to check and establish causal mechanisms, but the opportunity to build a solid methodological basis is not always there. This conference turned out to be a real gem for us! It was great to know that projects had fit perfectly into the overall framework of the conference.
Ksenia Tenisheva took part in a poster session, presenting a study on how being involved in various extracurricular activities influences students’ confidence as well as their academic performance. One of the most important findings is the fact that effects vary for boys and girls, as well as pupils in big and small cities. The overall conclusion is that extracurricular activities are beneficial to everyone. Their impact on increasing one’s self-esteem is especially visible in small towns, where the choice of school clubs is limited. Ksenia is currently working on an article about mechanisms that determine these differences.
Darya Khodorenko talked about how parents’ involvement in the lives of adolescents as well as risk practices of their friends are linked with alcohol consumption frequency. The study was based on data collected during a longitudinal survey including students of vocational and technical schools of saint Petersburg. The less students drink, better relationships are in the family, even if their friend group practices risk behaviours.
Vera Titkova talked about how the academic achievements of students are connected with their status in friendship and negative networks. Academic success is positively associated with popularity among peers and protects against animosity from classmates. Students with very low grades normally get more negative nominations from their peers. The relationship between academic achievement and popularity is influenced by the class context: in classes with extremely low academic motivation, good students are not very popular.
One of the main aims of being at a conference (besides presenting your own study, of course) is meeting colleagues, asking questions and being able to discuss possibilities for cooperation. The main direction, which was discussed at the conference in a variety of presentations, was the influence of parents and teachers on adolescents; behaviour, for example, alcohol consumption and peer bullying at school. It was both surprising and inspiring that researchers used a whole variety of data and methods to test their hypotheses: longitudinal and cohort studies, SEM, SNA,vignettes, and many more.
One of our main achievemts at the conference was meeting prof. Katariina Salmela-Aro (Department of Education, University of Helsinki). Her research team is also studying the wellbeing of students at school, their behavior, academic achievement and relationship networks. They are also are interested in the topic of STEM and have been working in this direction since 2016. We are looking forward to knowing each other better, sharing experiences and starting a joint project in the near future.