Keynotes

Keynote speakers are internationally renowned for their research on adolescent identities, digital behaviours, and adolescent social and cultural diversity.

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Professor Sonia Livingstone

London School of Economics and Political Science

How are the challenges of adolescence amplified in a digital world, and can we design better digital (or other) solutions for their wellbeing?

The pandemic saw a step-change in society’s reliance on digital infrastructure for learning, work, commerce and communication. Today’s adolescents are, more than ever, finding their identity and autonomy online, in part through online risk-taking and experimentation. While the opportunities are considerable, there are also growing concerns for the health and wellbeing of adolescents in the face of a global expansion in big tech and its powerful, algorithmically-driven, data-fuelled platforms. Whistle-blower Frances Haugen recently revealed that Instagram hid its own evidence of how the platform can harm adolescent girls, impeding efforts to help and support vulnerable users. Now its parent company, Meta, is planning for the ‘metaverse,’ a virtual world where play, social interaction and, most likely, every human vice or virtue can flourish. As pioneers in relation to digital innovation, young people will likely be the canaries in the coal mine of the metaverse, for better or for worse.

In this talk, I will draw on two recent research projects that explore and trouble binaries of online/offline or beneficial/harmful digital engagement, to understand adolescents’ worldview and calls for change, and consider how evidence can better inform policy, design and practice:

  • The first project asks how adolescents with mental health problems may be particularly vulnerable online and whether their lived experience enables them to gain resilience through digital skills. In-depth interviews with adolescents reveal how digital engagement and skills depend on digital design in ways that could be addressed not only through awareness and education but also through developing policy and standards for digital products and services.

  • The second project takes a child-rights approach to digital design by asking children and young people, along with parents, carers and experts, what changes they wish to see in the digital environment. Here the focus was on play, playfulness and agency as this is enabled or impeded by the design of apps, games and platforms available and commonly used online.

As society increasingly pivots towards all things digital, and since the digital environment is increasingly embedded in every aspect of adolescent lives, I invite deliberation and debate over ‘what good looks like’ for adolescence today. This debate must be open to multidisciplinary insights, as technologists, designers, data scientists, businesses, regulators and platforms join with youth and parent groups, educators, social workers and clinicians in influencing the opportunities and risks that young people now encounter. The ideas that prevail will surely have long-term consequences.

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Professor Klaus Boehnke

Jacobs University Bremen & Higher School of Economics Moscow

Acceptance of Diversity—Are Youth the Avant-Garde?

The keynote lecture introduces a concept of how to assess people’s degree of acceptance of diversity, which is to be seen as a crucial element of societal cohesion in contemporary times. It suggests that acceptance of diversity should not be reduced to only a few or even only one aspect of it, as, e.g., ethnic diversity. A comprehensive understanding of acceptance of diversity is needed. The keynote advocates to study acceptance of diversity as a construct with seven distinguishable facets, namely acceptance of diversity related to (a) age, (b) disability, (c) gender (d) sexual orientation, (e) ethnicity, (f) religion, and (g) socio-economic status. Based on these conceptual considerations, results from a large, representative CATI study of the German population (N = 2937) are presented with a focus on intergenerational differences in the acceptance of diversity, juxtaposing survey participants aged up to 25 years with older participants. From there on the keynote then zooms in on intergenerational differences for people living in different life contexts (urban, urban periphery, rural) and finally addresses the question as to whether there still are differences between East and West Germany over 30 years after unification.

Multivariate statistical analyses will be presented, showing that youth indeed are by far more appreciative of diversity than people above 25 with regard to religion, sexual orientation, and ethnicity, with no age difference found only for the acceptance of disability. Genuine differences according to residential context and to living in former East or West Germany are rare. Acceptance of ethnic diversity is generally higher in urban centers and age discrimination is lower in the East, but neither of these two facets of acceptance of diversity differ in their preference in interaction with age. This finding from a study representative for the German population suggests that indeed there seems to be a substantial generation gap in current day German society with regard to an acceptance of diversity. Disapproval of religious diversity in particular has seemingly become a non-topic for young Germans.

Keynote kindly supported by Timberlake

 

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Professor Nancy E. Hill

Harvard Graduate School of Education

Transition from Adolescence to Adulthood: Context and a Rationale for Delaying Adulthood

The transition from adolescence to adulthood is often fraught with anxieties about realizing one’s dreams, access to college, training to succeed in the job market, and making it in the ‘real’ world. As such, there is significant debate about when adolescence ends and adulthood begins and judgements about how long youth today are taking to reach adulthood. In this talk, historical data will be used to analyze and identify trends in the pathways and timing of the transition to adulthood, along with the contextual factors that shape those trends and pathways.  Further, the relations between educational and occupational opportunities and the timing of adulthood across global contexts will be discussed. The transition to adulthood is often conceptualized as an individual endeavor, a struggle within oneself to arrive at and be recognized as holding a mature status; but adulthood might be better conceptualized as a dynamic co-construction that occurs with society and within significant relationships. Whereas societal factors are often considered as contextual, this talk focuses on how societies are active agents in shaping adolescents’ beliefs about adulthood and stratifying adolescents into the socioeconomic strata.  The roles of youths’ sense of purpose and other characteristics are integrated into a model to better understand definitions of adulthood, societal needs and pressures, and adolescents’ tools in navigating the path to adulthood. 

Professor Hill tweets from @ProfNancyHill and more detail about her work can be read here.

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Professor Candace Currie

Glasgow Caledonia University London

Understanding the role of puberty in adolescent health – integrating societal, social and biological processes in an interdisciplinary theory

The role of puberty in adolescent health has become a hot research topic in recent years and has been addressed from a number of disciplinary perspectives. However, we are yet to see the construction of an integrated interdisciplinary theory to guide research in this area. A bio-ecological systems conceptual framework could provide the scaffolding to build such a theory and drive an ambitious research agenda that combines wide ranging disciplinary approaches to inform new questions, develop innovative methods and provide insightful interpretation of findings.

Puberty marks the start of the reproductive phase of the lifecourse and from an evolutionary perspective, optimal health during this period is critical to ‘success’. However, it could be argued that puberty has become abstracted from this evolutionary principle in most public discourse and much academic thinking. Rather, it has been framed as a period of behavioural change, driven by psychoneuroendocrine processes and shaped by social contexts and early experience. New behaviours are often viewed as maladaptive, and in a negative light with respect to health and social outcomes. More rarely considered is what ‘healthy pubertal development’ would look like, what behavior change would be considered adaptive and how these would fit within the concept of positive youth development.  

There is a dearth of studies which consider cultural understandings of puberty and how these shape different societal (macro-level) and social (micro-level) attitudes towards young people as they emerge from childhood and mature to adulthood. Most research on puberty in relation to adolescent health has been conducted in high income settings where largely speaking the achievement of puberty is rarely seen as a celebratory moment or cultural milestone. 

A broader perspective is needed to understand the impact of culture on the experience of puberty.  This collective social context is likely to influence the way that adolescents view this life changing developmental stage, as well as themselves as individuals during this period. It is clear that to progress our understanding, the scope of studies of puberty and adolescent health must be global and multicultural, as well as interdisciplinary and theoretically underpinned.