Youth in changing cultural contexts

From the individual to contexts and back: contexts shaping young people, their behavior, mental health, and relationships

Adolescence and young adulthood are unique and fascinating developmental periods. They are characterized by profound changes in all aspects of life ranging from changes at the physical and physiological levels, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral levels, to the social relational and institutional levels. These periods mark the transition from childhood to adulthood, when young people—across cultures—think about their future and goals in education, vocation, and family. In the 21st century, the experiences adolescents and young adults have every day are radically different from those of previous cohorts. Shifts and changes in the social, affective, environmental, and technological contexts contribute to these differences.

Adolescence and young adulthood

In our research program, we examine youth in these changing cultural contexts. Crucially, we are interested in the interplay between contexts, such as national policies, neighborhoods, school, family, peers, romantic relationships, and how this interplay affects young people, their (mental) health, social participation, and behavior. We examine how contexts and development change across age, cohort, and historical periods. We investigate both resilience and risk in different aspects of adolescents’ and young adults’ lives, including:

  • Media use (smartphones, games, social media, sexting)
  • (Mental) health and risk behavior
  • Socio-economic (in)equalities (poverty, migration, gender, socio-economic status)
  • Communication and relationships (peers, parents)
  • Risk behavior (alcohol, substance use, aggression)
  • Prosocial behavior (trust, helping)
  • Life style (music, health behavior)

We investigate how different contexts and their interaction shape the ways in which adolescents and young adults develop and, in turn, how these contexts are shaped by their behavior, (mental) health, and relationships. To gain a more complete understanding of adolescence and young adulthood in the 21st century, we adopt a multi-method approach, using longitudinal, experimental, and observational methods to examine these questions.

Research topics

  • The causes and consequences of social inequalities for (mental) health, social participation, and social relationships
  • The function of youth (sub)culture, music, life style of young people
  • Development of behavioral control
  • The influence of social networks on adolescents’ behavior and mental health
  • Development of addiction-like behaviors (substance and behavioral addictions)
  • Migration (refugees, labor-migrants, ethnic minorities), cultural diversity, and intercultural conflict (e.g., (reactions towards) discrimination, extremism)
  • Media and the digitalized social world
  • Gender (in)equality and sexual diversity in society
  • The international context of youth development (national policies, cultural characteristics of countries)

Programme leader