Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1998

How We Feel: An Insight into the Emotional World of Teenagers

Jacki Gordon and Gillian Grant (editors)
Jessica Kingsley: London
1 85302 439 2
xiv + 201 pp.

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This is a book that will be of great interest to those who work with young people: parents, academics in youth studies and people working in health and education. Its most valuable contribution is that it gives insights into how young people see their lives, at an emotional level. What it reveals is that within any group of young people there are complex and varied experiences, and that young people themselves recognise that their emotional responses are complex.

The first part of the book reports on a study of 1634 young people. The study was carried out in Glasgow on one day in 1995 (coinciding with Scottish Mental Health Week). The young people who responded were all attending secondary school. The project was conceived to explicitly address the problem that ‘facts and figures' on young people's health do not reveal enough about ‘ordinary' young people. In other words, the aim was to listen to how young people feel about growing up and to report on this as much as possible using young people's words and expressions. The survey was also motivated by a desire to shift the concept of mental health away from a focus on clinical illness, towards health and well being.

In presenting the young people's views, the authors have ‘let the young people speak for themselves', through the use of direct quotes which gives the book a lively character, and provides material that can be used comparatively. The analysis reveals, amongst other things, strong gender differences in the expression of feelings. Girls reported a wider range of feelings than boys and were more likely to describe themselves as feeling depressed. The discussion of young people's responses is organised around the topics of happiness/unhappiness, self esteem and what young people do with their feelings. Each of these areas constitutes a chapter, which contains quotes revealing the diversity of responses. While the authors are justifiably wary of generalising, the responses confirm the central importance of friendships, of having a laugh and of being able to talk to and be listened to by adults.

Part of the data collection included the use of a diary, in which young people recorded how they felt. Here, young people reveal the wide range of incidents, events and relationships that have an impact on their sense of self. These are discussed in chapters on how young people feel about themselves, about school, family, friendships and other areas of life.

The second half of the book is a collection of papers written by professionals related to young people's health. The reflections of professional youth workers, health workers, and youth researchers provide a number of thought-provoking discussions about meeting young people's needs and promoting young people's health in an increasingly complex society. The quality of the relationship between young people and general practitioners is addressed, as is the issue of providing services for young people, now and in the future. In this section of the book, there is some further analysis of the issues of gender and of relationships in families both of which are signalled as significant in the first part of the book.

In the concluding comments, the book reaffirms the necessity of involving young people in the design and delivery of services that are aimed at them. It is also a plea to recognise that young people are an incredibly diverse group who need support, friendship and understanding from the people around them.

Johanna Wyn
Director, Youth Research Centre, University of Melbourne, Australia

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1998