Title

Relational Cultural Theory: A Perspective for Adolescent Development

Location

Ballroom D

Strand #1

Social & Emotional Skills

Strand #2

Mental & Physical Health

Relevance

Relational Cultural Theory provides a framework for understanding the social and emotional development of adolescents. This framework also includes the mental health component associated with this age cohort. Adolescence is characterized by improved cognitive functioning, identity development and new found independence. Germane to this process is the need to transition from childhood which is plagued by many challenges for at risk youth. They are required to negotiate relationships with peers, family and their greater community. This requires an understanding of who they are individually and collectively. This presentation provides insight into the following strands: social, emotional and mental health of at risk adolescents.

Brief Program Description

Relational Cultural Theory focuses on strengthening relationships through mutual engagement, empathy and empowerment with parents, peers, school and the greater community. This engagement process will require the active involvement of all stakeholders to produce relationships that are successful and nurturing. These relationships will help connect the adolescent to their environment and serve as a protective factor against at risk behaviors.

Summary

Relational Cultural Theory focuses on strengthening relationships is paramount in working with adolescents. Research has shown that adolescents are influenced by the relationships with peers and others who are deemed significant. This is often described as peer pressure excluding the importance of significant others who may have equal impact on the decision making of the adolescent. It is the purpose of this presentation to explore how “significant others” can become instrumental in reframing the relationships to build stronger, more supportive bonds with at risk adolescents. Mutual engagement begins immediately. This occurs when the adolescent first interfaces with school personnel, mentors or other concerned participants. It is an ongoing process that requires involvement of all parties: adolescent, family, school and greater community. Mutual empathy requires that an adolescent be moved by the experiences of other and a genuine need to assist. This is accompanied by respect, safety and the need for supervision. At risk youth are connected to their surroundings and process the emotions associated with the needs and/or wants of their peers. Although they “shout” independence, it is clear that they need guidance and are willing to accept it from an individual who respects their independence. Additionally, the significant others must show an authentic commitment to the adolescent, valuing their feelings and experiences, actively listening and providing clear, constructive feedback. Thirdly, mutual empowerment which utilizes the components above provides a growth fostering relationship that includes: zest, action, knowledge, worth and desire. Adolescents who reach empowerment are better able to engage in their environment, have better decision making skills, understand how to solicit assistance and receive feedback and possibly experience fewer negative effects. Learning these skill will prepare them for a lifetime of possibilities.

Evidence

Utilizing the work of Miller and Striver (1977), Berry Edwards and Richards (2002) define mutual engagement as “an ongoing process, which develops a special connection” (p.38). This connection requires that all involved parties pay close attention to the connections and potential disconnections (Comstock, Hammer, Strentzsch, Cannon, Parsons & Salazar, 2008). When working with adolescents, it is imperative that the support systems are in tune with this ebb and flow. Disconnections often occur as the result of trauma experienced within the home, family, and greater community. These experiences are often manifested in selected peer groups, early substance use, disruptive school behaviors and the evidence of racial discrimination (Kang and Burton, 2014). According to Berry Edwards and Richards (2002), the key to building and maintaining connection is involvement. This involvement is tangible, in that the adolescent can develop a relationship that provides reliability and support.

Mutual empathy is a willingness to be moved by another’s experience and the intention to move the other by being authentic (Berry Edwards & Richards, 2002). The creation of this mutuality requires a leveling of the playing field; which is difficult for most due to the power differential of the adolescent and the adults responsible for guidance and support. Given the oppressive environments and the lack of power afforded them in their communities, it is crucial that mutual respect is be at the forefront of the relationships. The sense of powerlessness is very pertinent to the decision making of adolescents and can produce incidents of psychological and emotional injury (Carter, 2007; Ryan, Testa & Zhai, 2008). Stakeholders, which include parents, teachers and other community members must demonstrate respect for the adolescent by actively listening to their concerns, giving primacy to the adolescents’ perspective, and create teaching moments that foster growth, independence and critical thinking (Berry Edwards, Davis & Harris, 2013).

The key to mutual empowerment is personal growth, which results from the adolescent and key stakeholders working together to build a deeply rooted and purposeful connection. According to Relational Cultural Theory, many variables can impede this process. They include such differences as race, class, ethnicity, age, religion and sexual orientation. The stakeholders must be willing to openly acknowledge and discuss these differences if they are to be successful in the coalescence of mutual engagement, empathy and empowerment. Being aware of one’s own view is important both in the authenticity of engagement but also the understanding of the privilege and power dynamic.

Adolescents at risk often are unheard and give voice to their feelings and thoughts to acting out behaviors. Investing in adolescents can provide them with the self esteem, develop critical thinking skill and expose them to opportunities they either did not know about or did not feel they could obtain.

Format

Individual Presentation

Biographical Sketch

Dr. Janice M. Davis is the Director of Field Education at Howard University School of Social Work in Washington, DC. She has worked at Howard University School of Social Work for over 15 years. She currently teaches course in Human Behavior and the Social Environment and Substance Use and Abuse. Her research interests include: nontraditional students, first generation college students, social class, social determinants of health and adolescent males in the education system.

As a clinical social worker for over thirty years, she has had the opportunity to work with numerous underserved populations. Dr. Davis has worked as a school social worker, medical social worker, substance abuse worker and private practitioner. She has extensive experience working with adolescents in at risk communities. Dr. Davis also plans and develops professional educational and trainings for professional development.

Dr. Cynthia E. Harris is the Special Assistant for Academic and Student Advancement and Assistant Professor at the Howard University School of Social Work in the Direct Practice and Fields of Practice Sequences. She is on faculty in the Doctor of Administration program at Central Michigan University where she earned her terminal degree in Health Administration. Dr. Harris has conducted numerous workshops and seminars both locally and nationally on grief and loss, ethics, anger in families, stress management, etc. She is the current President of the DC Metro Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

Janice Berry Edwards, Ph.D., LICSW is an Assistant Professor at Howard University School of Social Work in the Direct Practice Sequence. Her teaching focus is clinical and she has developed a psychopharmacology course. Dr. Edwards is Sequence Chair for the Clinical Practice track at CSWE (Council of Social Work Education). Her research interests include Multiply Intelligence in Social Work Practice, African American Female Faculty in Predominately White Schools of Social Work, and innovative teaching methodologies.

Keyword Descriptors

social and emotional development, mental health, resilience, community engagement

Presentation Year

2016

Start Date

3-8-2016 8:30 AM

End Date

3-8-2016 9:45 AM

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Mar 8th, 8:30 AM Mar 8th, 9:45 AM

Relational Cultural Theory: A Perspective for Adolescent Development

Ballroom D

Relational Cultural Theory focuses on strengthening relationships through mutual engagement, empathy and empowerment with parents, peers, school and the greater community. This engagement process will require the active involvement of all stakeholders to produce relationships that are successful and nurturing. These relationships will help connect the adolescent to their environment and serve as a protective factor against at risk behaviors.