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Published 4 April 2019

A voyage of positive youth development for New Zealand adolescents

The R. Tucker Thompson took the youth on a 7-day voyage around Northland

Researchers have found a 7-day adventure sailing voyage around Northland had a positive impact on the youth voyagers, with increases in psychological resilience, self-esteem and positive outlook.

In the paper ‘Positive youth development in Māori and New Zealand European adolescents through an adventure education programme’  recently published in Kōtuitui: New Zealand Journal of Social Sciences Online Vol/Iss 14/1, Hitaua Arahanga-Doyle et al used a study on sail training to promote positive youth development (PYD) in Māori and New Zealand European teenagers. The PYD approach places an emphasis on promoting positive factors that are beneficial for development, rather than identifying and fixing faults.

The aim of the study was to assess how three main outcomes of PYD changed as a result of the activities and experience on the voyage. Additionally, the study recorded how a sense of belonging or whanaungatanga contributed to changes in PYD.

Mental disorder rates among children are becoming more prominent in Aotearoa New Zealand, resulting in a growing interest in the use of PYD. Māori youth are disproportionately affected by mental health challenges. In the context of Aotearoa New Zealand, PYD not only creates a more positive narrative for influencing youth outcomes, it also redefines those outcomes.

Instead of correcting, curing or treating mental health challenges, a PYD approach seeks to understand, educate and engage teenagers in activities that are productive. This approach also has an underlying ethos of Māori health and wellbeing.

The teenagers on board were selected from the Northland region of the country. Many are tangata whenua, traversing and learning about that area of Northland for the first time during the 7-day voyage. This place-based approach draws on the connections between land, belonging and identity, and aims to strengthen these connections. Activities such as visiting historical pā sites, celestial navigation and celebrating their tupuna who have historically taken similar voyages, all provided valuable connections for Māori youth and helped to foster their self-esteem.

Before getting on the vessel, voyagers took part in activities that prioritised whakawhanaungatanga in order to create a comfortable environment for discussion and teamwork. The teenagers also set up self-discipline through a tātou process that outlined acceptable behaviour. This process was revisited if a member of the team pushed the boundaries, allowing the team to work through issues using a process of their own creation.

For both Māori and Pākeha voyagers, the assessments showed that their resilience, self-esteem and positive outlook increased from the first to the last day of the trip. For Māori voyagers, these increases in psychological resilience were significantly driven by the social and collective identity of the voyagers that they formed together.

The open access article ‘Positive youth development in Māori and New Zealand European adolescents through an adventure education programme’ is available to read in full in the latest issue of Kōtuitui: New Zealand Journal of Social Sciences Online, a showcase of the increasing number of collaborative research endeavours across the social sciences in Aotearoa. Hosted at Taylor & Francis Online.