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A description highlighting the psychosocial problems experienced by learners in three secondary schools in the western cape



This paper sets out to provide a qualitative description of the psychosocial problems experienced by learners at three secondary schools in the Western Cape. The learners selected were both male and female and originated from "Quintile 5" schools, which are considered well resourced and self-sustainable. These schools cater mostly for learners from middle to upper socio-economic groups. The results of this study indicate that psychosocial problems, connected to negative peer and family associations, were the most significant hindrances to the effective functioning of these adolescents. Subsequent research will be aimed at refining an intervention approach to address the highlighted psychosocial problems.
Social Work/Maatskaplike Werk 2010:46(3)
Philip Geldenhuys, Annemarie Youngleson
This paper provides a description of the psychosocial problems experienced by learners in three
secondary schools in the Western Cape. This research aimed at eliciting the personal
experiences of learners and then describing these data in comparison with current theoretical
knowledge. The results of this research have been used as the scientific underpinning for the
development of a multidisciplinary support service to learners in Western Cape secondary
schools: the primary aim of the Community Keepers (CK) organisation.
CK is a non-profit organisation that exists to serve the community by addressing various
psychosocial problems and needs within South African schools. CK aims to establish long-term
relationships with school communities (learners, educators and parents) and to collaborate with
these groups to find solutions to the challenges facing contemporary societies. This aim is
accomplished through a unique approach to service and support, where professionals from
diverse disciplines collectively form a team that assists individuals and families in a holistic
way. The multidisciplinary team delivering the service will ideally consist of a social worker,
clinical psychologist, educational psychologist, dietician, occupational therapist and school
It is important to describe the context within which the research took place. The three schools
selected to form part of this research are classified as Quintile 53 schools. Although these
schools offer opportunities for underprivileged learners, the majority of the learners are from
middle to upper-class socio-economic groups. The schools are well resourced and self-
sustainable. Within these schools the learners who were selected varied in terms of race, age,
gender and current school grade.
This paper therefore sets out to describe the comparisons of self-reported psychosocial
experiences of learners in these three schools across one specific domain (problems). The
purpose of subsequent research will be to implement a multidisciplinary intervention
specifically tailored to the felt needs of the learners. Ultimately intervention will be aimed at
addressing psychosocial issues in adolescents in secondary schools.
This research project was initially sparked by a concern and curiosity which developed from
observations made in the media as well as from direct experiences in clinical practice in the
community (Marshall & Rossman, 1999; Mouton, 2001). For example, the South African
Institute of Race Relations (2008) reports that South African schools are the most dangerous in
the world.
3 Quintile 5 schools can be defined as schools that are subsidised by the government at a rate of R129 per child
per year and the rest of the costs are covered through school fees and private funds. This is in contrast to a
Quintile 1 school, which receives R775 per child per year (
Social Work/Maatskaplike Werk 2010:46(3)
Although the majority of the media hype around schools focuses on the extreme cases of
violence and crime, other less prominent problems are evident within the school system. Visser
(2003) explains that international tendencies indicate that when a nation has undergone drastic
socio-economic and political change, as has happened in South Africa, changes often echo
within a sphere of risk behaviour. Thus social problems in schools cannot be explained in terms
of a linear progression, but only as a manifestation of problems in the wider society. It can
therefore be concluded that the social ills of the community not only negatively influence the
school system as a whole, but also the role-players individually. Liebenberg-Siebert and Smit
(2001) state that higher success rates of schools are dependent on substantial psychosocial
changes in society. It would seem that external forces from the community have a far-reaching
and prevailing influence on the functioning of learners.
Essentially, it seems that the successful functioning of secondary school learners is closely
linked to the psychosocial functioning of the community and society (Schorr, 1997:283).
Furthermore, there seems to be a problem with high-risk behaviour among adolescents in
secondary schools in South Africa. The Youth Risk Behaviour Survey (Department of Health,
2002) is a document that clearly outlines the prevalence of key risk behaviours among South
African youths. This survey consisted of sampling 23 schools per province, within which
14 766 learners from Grades 8-11 were sampled and 10 699 participated. The following are a
few findings as indicated by learners who participated in this survey:
In the previous six months, 19% had considered suicide and 17% had attempted suicide;
41% had been bullied in the previous month;
Alcohol consumption ranged from 49% having used it before, 32% for drinking in the
previous month, and 23% had engaged in binge drinking in the previous month;
Drug consumption varied from 13% having used dagga, 12% heroin, 11% inhalants and 6%
With regard to sexual behaviour, 41% of learners had had sex. Among the learners who had
had sex before, 54% had had more than one past sexual partner, 70% had had sex in the past
three months, only 29% practised consistent condom use and 16% had been pregnant.
This highlighted the need for a detailed description of the psychosocial problems experienced
by learners in the secondary school environment. The critical lack of detailed information on
this topic hinders the process of intervention with this population and the development of
specific interventions aimed at targeting problems and needs highlighted by the population.
Following from the above, the overall goal of this paper is to give a description of the personal
and communal psychosocial problems experienced by learners in three secondary schools in the
Western Cape.
A qualitative paradigm was chosen for this research because the purpose of the study was to
give a description of the perceptions and experiences of learners (Babbie, 2001:36-37; De Vos,
Strydom, Fouché & Delport, 2005:74; Murray & Chamberlain, 2000; Neuman 2000:417-418).
A phenomenological research design was implemented for this study (Patton, 2002:69).
According to De Vos et al. (2005:273), the phenomenological approach aims to understand and
Social Work/Maatskaplike Werk 2010:46(3)
interpret the meaning that subjects give to their everyday lives. This enabled the researchers to
simultaneously develop an understanding of the phenomena described, during the process of
describing them (Alston & Bowles, 2003:34-35; De Vos et al., 2005:106).
Interviewing process
In-depth personal interviewing and naturalistic observation (Mitchell & Jolley, 2001:441;
Rubin & Babbie, 2001:388-389), using a semi-structured interview schedule, were used in this
study to gain a detailed picture of the participants’ beliefs and perceptions (De Vos et al.,
2002:302; Neuman, 2000:271-274; Padgett, 1998:373-374). The researchers themselves were
involved and responsible for the fieldwork, which consisted of semi-structured questionnaires
presented in an interview style as open-ended questions. This enabled the researchers to focus
on specific problems experienced by learners, while allowing flexibility to elaborate on
personal psychosocial issues (De Vos et al., 2005:292). All the interviews were tape-recorded
and transcribed in order to ensure accuracy and efficiency in obtaining the information. The
themes and sub-themes that emerged from the data were then used to generate categories to
order the information (Cresswell, 1998; Marshall & Rossman, 1999). These themes included
the psychosocial, educational, recreational and physical aspects. For the purposes of this article,
the researchers have chosen to focus on the psychosocial themes.
Patton (2002) explains that there are no specific stipulations for sample size in qualitative
research and that this is mainly determined through the logic of replication: samples are
therefore based on saturation. One of the main factors influencing the learner sample was
access to informed consent. This process of obtaining consent was in itself a method of
selecting the sample size as many of the learners were not able to participate in the study
because they did not bring back their consent forms. Attempts were made to obtain informed
consent by handing out a detailed letter highlighting the goal of the investigation and its
possible advantages and disadvantages; it also indicated the credibility of the researchers (De
Vos et al., 2005:106). All consent was obtained on a voluntary basis and no participants were
included in the study unless express written consent was given by their parents/guardians. A
random sample was then selected from all the returned forms for respondents to participate in
the individual interview process. In total 60 individual learners were interviewed.
Learner population 2 385
Learner sample 60
Ethical considerations
Throughout this study careful consideration was given to adhering to the ethical guidelines
around completing research with minors. Padgett (1998:36) notes the importance of getting
permission from the authoritative structures when proceeding with research. For this reason,
permission from the Western Cape Educational Department was obtained in April 2008 before
commencing with the study. After obtaining this permission, every principal of every school
where research would be done was approached with a formal research proposal; all principals
gave their consent for participation in the study. The researchers paid careful attention to the
following issues: informed consent, anonymity, confidentiality, privacy, and preventing harm
Social Work/Maatskaplike Werk 2010:46(3)
and/or deception of respondents (De Vos et al., 2005:63-69; Monette, Sullivan & Jong,
A number of limitations were taken into consideration in this study. Of primary concern was
the fact that the learner sample was limited by the number of learners who brought back their
consent forms. As a result, the sample obtained was randomly selected from this population and
not the greater population. This places limitations on representation; however, this was deemed
as of lesser importance in the context of qualitative research.
CK recognised the need for an investigation that focuses on the personal experiences of
learners in a Quintile 5 school setting. There is limited literature and data sets that focus on the
problems experienced by this specific group in the population and there is a gap in
understanding and knowledge regarding the experience of the individual learner within the
scope of the larger educational system (Visser & Moleko, 1999). However, the scope for
generalisation beyond these results is limited as these results are based on findings within a
Quintile 5 school setting and therefore may not be comparable to results that would be obtained
from a different school context.
An additional limitation is the fact that the interviews took place on the school grounds. This
could have had a detrimental impact on the quality of the responses obtained, seeing that
respondents may have felt inhibited or not been able to give their full attention to the
Psychosocial problems can be defined within the area of human functioning, where there is a
desire, but not the means, to change a situation specifically pertaining to one’s psychological
(emotional and cognitive) development within and in interaction with a social environment
(school, family and friends) (Reber, 1995:620). Adolescence has been identified as a period of
dramatic change second only to the first two to three years of children’s lives (Eccles, 1999).
Thus adolescents, at this critical stage of their overall development, are particularly vulnerable
to developing psychosocial problems when there is a negative impact on their development.
Bronfenbrenner (1979) proposed a theoretical framework for understanding human functioning.
He believed that proximal processes (the exchanges of energy between the developing person
and the environment) are the building blocks for human development. This theoretical
framework states that proximal processes need to take place on a regular basis over extended
periods of time in order for effective development to occur. During childhood and early
adolescence, proximal processes occur within three key ecological contexts: with family,
friends and wider societal structures and norms (Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Bronfenbrenner &
Evans, 2000). For the purposes of this study, the researchers have chosen to focus on the
psychosocial problems, as described by the learners, within the family and peer contexts, which
give rise to problems in the effective development of the adolescents involved.
The family system is arguably the entity with the greatest influence on the development and
functioning of any individual. Families go through various positive and negative transitions,
which could include the birth of children, initiation of schooling or the loss of a parent as a
result of divorce or death (Zastrow, 2004:55). These transitions can be interpreted as times of
disequilibrium in the family system, when family stability is threatened by the demand for
Social Work/Maatskaplike Werk 2010:46(3)
change, and they usually have a negative impact on the proximal processing of the individual
(Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 1998:37). Unsuccessful transitions may result in tensions between
family members which can manifest in behavioural problems. When left uncorrected, these
behavioural problems can develop into established negative behavioural patterns (Germain &
Gitterman, 1986:630). Consequently the psychosocial wellbeing of an adolescent will directly
and indirectly be influenced by times of family disequilibrium that could emanate from a range
of causes: from physical (divorce) to emotional (neglect). Prior, Ruschena, Sanson and Smart
(2005) highlight divorce, parental separation, remarriage and death as family transitions that
could contribute to psychosocial problems in adolescents.
Parental divorce is considered one of the most significant and stressful events that children and
adolescents may have to face. The severity of this event is mediated by the quality of the
parent-child relationship (Farrington, 2002; Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990; Greeff & Watson,
2004; Holmen, Roysamb, Stroksen & Tambs, 2006). In situations where the parents are unable
to facilitate effective processing of divorce, adolescents are faced with psychosocial problems
which impede effective emotional and social development.
Similarly, parental death results in negative consequences for each family member individually
and the family as a whole. Research shows that the surviving parent’s ability to cope with the
loss of their partner will largely impact on the adolescent’s grieving process (Hamrin & Kirwin,
2005). The death of a parent can negatively affect a child’s self-concept, health and social
functioning, if the task of grieving is not facilitated in a supportive environment (Hamrin &
Kirwin, 2005).
Single parents
Research has found that single-parent families increase the risk of adolescents becoming
involved in negative social behaviour and delinquency (Farrington, 2002:426; Frank, 2005:12;
Guerra, 2002:xvi; Hamrin & Kirwin, 2005:70; Popenoe, 1996:142). Furthermore, parental
involvement fosters the development of children’s character that is conducive to successful
psychosocial functioning (Baumeister, Engels & Finkenauer, 2006:58). In a study focusing on
youth offenders, Geldenhuys (2007) notes that adolescents have a dire need for emotional
support and guidance from parents or guardians, and the absence of this could lead to
psychosocial problems and negative behavioural patterns. The involvement of parents in the
lives of their children can be described as a protective factor: possibly increasing the
adolescent’s capacity to help themselves and to prevent the development of psychosocial
Although family relationships remain important throughout life, peer relationships become an
increasingly significant influence on adolescents’ lives (Vaux, 1988). Adolescents are
consciously and unconsciously looking for role models (generally amongst peers) whom they
can follow. Nation and Heflinger (2006) confirm that peer relationships are powerfully
influential on the attitudes and behaviour of adolescents. Adolescence is synonymous with
various physical, emotional and behavioural changes. During this period teenagers are more
likely to engage in risk-taking behaviour, which can have psychological and social outcomes.
Social Work/Maatskaplike Werk 2010:46(3)
At times this risk-taking behaviour may impede the accomplishment of normal developmental
tasks and the fulfilment of expected social roles (Jessor, 1991).
Sexual behaviour
Risk-taking behaviour commonly manifests in the area of adolescent sexual interactions. Various
studies indicate that dating and sexual activities which occur earlier than same-age peers, and
sexual intercourse that occurs without adequate protection, are sources of psychosocial and health
risks for youth (Costa, Jessor, Donovan & Fortenberry, 1995; Costa, Jessor, Fortenberry &
Donovan, 1996; Stattin & Magnusson, 1990). Adolescents commonly exhibit careless sexual
behaviour or promiscuity, which has been proved to have detrimental consequences on their
psychosocial functioning (Goodenow, Netherland & Szalacha, 2002:203).
Substance use/abuse
Although numerous factors can account for adolescent substance use, the predominant reason
seems to involve the fact that adolescence is a period of transition, wherein impulsivity,
recklessness and non-conforming behaviour manifest more prominently than in any other
developmental stage (Madge & Harvey, 1999). Reviews of research exploring the nature of
substance use during adolescence repeatedly highlight the critical role peer relationships play
concerning the onset and escalation of alcohol and drug use (Petraitis, Flay & Miller, 1995).
The literature (Dishion, Capaldi, Spraklen & Li, 1995) highlights that peer influences are also
critically important in the onset of substance use in adolescents, and that drug and alcohol use
among close peers appears to influence the initiation and maintenance of drug use by
adolescents (Nation & Heflinger, 2006).
The current profile of alcohol abuse among South African adolescents in many ways mirrors
the trends found globally among adolescents (Parry, Myers, Marojele, Flisher, Bhana, Donson
& Pluddemann, 2004). Mostly the initiation of alcohol use and experimentation during
adolescence is considered normative; however, there are incidences where excessive binge
drinking is described (Clark, Bukstein & Cornelius, 2002). In a study which took place among
Cape Town Grade 11 learners it was reported that the proportion of learners who had used
tobacco, alcohol and cannabis in the previous month was 27%, 31% and 7% respectively
(Flisher, Muller & Lombard, 2004).
In general, there is a scarcity of information on the extent of drug use amongst South African
young people (Visser & Routledge, 2007). Based on the studies available, it would seem that a
relatively small minority of teenagers use illicit drugs in community populations (Clark et al.,
2002) and that the majority of adolescents using drugs in South Africa use cannabis (Flisher,
Parry, Evans, Lombard & Muller, 2003). Interestingly, the literature review for this study
revealed that very little is known about alcohol and drug use among adolescents living in
affluent social settings as most of the research focuses on lower socio-economic settings. It is
generally presumed that social and economic advantages decrease the risk of psychosocial
problems; however, research (McMahon & Luthar, 2006) indicates that substance use may
occur as frequently, if not more so, among children living in affluent suburban communities.
In order to fully understand the results, it is necessary to provide an accurate description of the
sample population from which the findings were obtained. Tables 1-4 reflect the sample sizes
that were used in this study and have been grouped in terms of the selection criteria used in the
sampling process.
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Age Number of learners % of total
13-14 years 13 21.67%
15-16 years 26 43.33%
17-18 years 21 35%
Total 60 100%
The 15-16 years age bracket represents learners from Grades 8, 9, 10 and 11. As a result the
highest percentage of learners naturally fell within this age bracket.
Gender Number of learners % of total
Male 25 41.67%
Female 35 58.33%
Total 60 100%
The difference between female and male respondents can be attributed to the process of random
sampling, whereby more females were interviewed than males.
Table 4 presents a description of the psychosocial problems of those who participated in this study:
1. Family
Problems 1.1 Divorce
“My parents have been divorced since I was 6… you don’t really get over
“My ouers is geskei toe ek in graad 4 was… my pa… ek dink hy is nou al
so 4 keer getroud en geskei… ek
weet hy het my ma ’n paar keer verneuk
toe hulle nog saam was.”
[My parents were divorced when I was in Grade
4... my father... I think he has remarried and divorced about 4 times since
then... I know that he was unfaithful a few times when he was still w
ith my
“Family life is not good…my parents are divorced… before Grade 8 she
(mother) tried to commit suicide… I shut myself down.”
1.2 Death of
“Pa is oorlede… oor die jare het hy (stiefpa) goed aan my ma gedoen
waarvan ek nie gehou het
nie… glad nie met hom gepraat van die dag dat
hulle getrou het.”
things to my mother which I do not like... I have not spoken to him since
the day that they married.]
“My ma is oorlede toe ek 4 maand
e oud is en my pa het ons toe gelos so ek
bly eintlik by my ouma en oupa… ek ken hom (pa) glad nie.”
[My mother
died when I was 4 months old and my father left us then, so I actually live
with my grandmother and grandfather... I don’t know him (father) at all.]
1.3 Single-
“Sometimes I don’t feel like coming to school because my mom is a single
parent. If things are going bad at home, it kind of affects my school life.”
“As ek by die huis is dan raak alles te swaar vir my. My ma en haar
Social Work/Maatskaplike Werk 2010:46(3)
boyfriend s
try baie… my ma stres baie… ek stres baie die laaste tyd…
daar’s altyd nooit iemand om mee te praat nie.”
[When I am at home,
everything becomes too much to bear. My mother and her boyfriend often
fight... my mother stresses a great deal... I have begun to
stress a great deal
in the last while... there’s never anyone with whom I can talk.]
“My mom lives 3 hours away… I think my father is on the verge of
becoming depressed… my mother used to drink a lot. Her father was an
alcoholic… I was raised as the responsible one.”
The results indicate that divorce is experienced as a distressing psychosocial stressor.
Respondents implied that there was little support available during and after the divorce for
them and their families. This correlates with the findings of Greeff and Watson (2004) and
Farrington (2002), which note the destructive consequences divorce has on children when the
necessary support is not received from the parental relationship. Resentment towards one or
both of the parents (for their role in the separation, before and after the divorce) as identified by
the participants, provided additional confirmation of the negative impact of this life event on
the psychosocial functioning of these adolescents.
Parental death was experienced as a psychosocial problem because of the drastic influence it
had on participants’ individual and family lives. It seemed as if the influence of this event was
diminished by the positive ability of the other parent to successfully cope and adapt afterwards.
This confirms the findings of Hamrin and Kirwin (2005) on the negative effects that the death
of a parent can have on a child if the task of grieving is not facilitated in a supportive
environment. Participants also referred to the compounding effect of relocation and remarriage
of their surviving parent and their negative experience of these events in addition to the initial
parental death. The inability to change the circumstances around parental death makes this
event a serious psychosocial problem for participants.
Participants emphasised the lack of support in single-parent families and reported manifold
psychosocial problems in these settings. This correlates with the findings of Baumeister et al.
(2006) and Maree (2003) on the need that adolescents have for emotionally involved and
interested parents. Participants complained that the lack of parental involvement impeded their
own ability to cope with everyday challenges: this parallels findings by Frank (2005) and
Hamrin and Kirwin (2005). The participants felt that better emotional support from a parent
could enhance their own psychosocial functioning.
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2. Substance
use 2.1 Alcohol
“Daar’s ’n fase wat ’n mens deurgaan wat jy alkohol
misbruik maar nou is dit niks. Drink het soos ’n instelling
geraak, soos 2 dae ’n week gaan ons uit… en dan raak die
ouens trashed.” [There’s a phase which people go through
where they misuse alcohol, but now it’s nothing. Drinking has
become like an institution, like 2 days a week, we go out...
and then the guys get trashed.]
“Drinking has become sort of culture… girls are really
struggling with alcohol over weekends… unwind after a long
hard week.”
“Daar is kinders wat soos elke naweek kuier daar is ’n
hele paar wat kuier om elke naweek dronk te word.” [There
are children who like drink every weekend... there is a whole
bunch who drink in order to get drunk every weekend.]
2.2 Drugs
“Ons rook dagga in die natuur… in die park… kry by ’n rasta
in die omgewing… hy het ‘n spesifieke plek waar hy dit
verkoop.” [We smoke dagga in nature… in the park... get it
from a rasta in the vicinity... he has a specific place where he
sells it.]
“House parties… there are a few (learners) that smoke… use
drugs… dagga, not any hard core drugs.”
The results of this study indicate that alcohol was the most common substance used among the
adolescents interviewed. This correlates with the findings of Flisher et al. (2004). Learners reported
that the excessive use of alcohol was regarded as the norm and a means of connecting socially with
other learners. There seemed to be polar responses to binge drinking – those who considered it an
“institution” and those who were ashamed of the behaviour of their peers. Research conducted in
South Africa by Visser and Routledge (2007) confirms that many adolescents engage in substance
use activities, which they perceive as risky, but yet somehow acceptable within their peer groups.
Learners did not seem to be concerned about the health risks of excessive alcohol use, although the
literature highlights that substance abuse among adolescents in South Africa is one of the most
significant health and social problems (Flisher et al., 2003).
Generally the use of drugs amongst learners was not reported as problematic. It would seem
that those who are involved with drug use mainly smoke cannabis (as opposed to using “hard”
drugs). Findings by Flisher et al. (2003) confirm this. The learners described using drugs in
social gatherings rather than when alone; however, these learners seemed to be in the minority.
The literature on adolescent drug use in South Africa is limited, especially with respect to
affluent settings (Visser & Routledge, 2007). This may be indicative of the more prominent
effects of alcohol rather than drug use in this population. However, it is possible that the lack of
information on drug use is a result of learners’ reluctance to discuss drug use, which may be
considered a social taboo in some communities.
Social Work/Maatskaplike Werk 2010:46(3)
3.1 Peer
“If you haven’t done it (sex), how are you going to feel? You’re going
to feel like an outcast.”
“In die hoërskool dink d
ie kinders baie anders oor verhoudings…
begin sien hoe jou vriende dink daaroor en dan betwyfel jy of jou
wyse van dink reg is… moeilik om te onderskei wat nou reg en
verkeerd is… want hy (ou) sal sê, ‘as jy lief is vir my, dan sal jy dit
(seks) doen’… en dan los hy jou agterna.”
[In high school, children
think very differently about relationships... begin to see how your
friends think and then you doubt whether your way of thinking is
correct... difficult to distinguish between right and wrong... because
e (a guy) will say, ‘if you love me, then you’ll have sex with me’...
then he leaves you afterwards.]
3. Sexual
3.2 Sexual
activity in
is “normal”
“Die meeste het al seks gehad… hulle (kinders) praat sommer
daaroor op die strate, miskien, ‘sy het saam
met hom geslaap’, dis nie
meer ’n issue nie.”
[Most have already had sex... they (children) even
talk about it openly on the street, say for instance ‘she’s slept with
him,’ it’s no longer an issue.]
“As jy uitgaan oor naweke, by partytjies by huise, dit
(seks) gebeur,
dis nie net op die TV nie… baie ouens is seksueel aktief… hulle is
meestal in verhoudings.”
[If you go out over weekends, to parties at
peoples’ houses, it (sex) happens, it’s not only on TV... many guys
are sexually active... they are mainly in relationships.]
3.3 Regret
“Die grootste fout was om my virginity weg te gooi. My ma en pa kon
dit gekeer het as hulle eie probleme uitsorteer sou wees… het die
eerste keer met ’n ou geslaap in Graad 9… dit was ’n slegte
ervaring.” [The biggest mist
ake was to throw away my virginity. My
mother and father could have prevented it, if their own problems were
sorted out... I slept with a guy for the first time in Grade 9... it was a
horrible experience.]
“One of my close friends had a boyfriend and they
slept together and
now have broken up. She’s actually really having a hard time and is
actually failing Grade 10… she’s really struggling with normal life
stuff because all she can think about is him.”
3.4 Inadequate
In ons graad van in d
ie 130 kinders was daar oor die 60 kinders wat
al seksueel aktief is… weet vir ’n feit hulle het al seks gehad… ’n
paar meisies wat aborsies gehad het… baie meisies wat kliniek toe
gaan vir die ‘morning after’ pil.”
[In our grade of about 130 children,
re are over 60 children who are already sexually active... I know
for a fact that they have had sex already... know of a few girls who
have had abortions... many girls who go to the clinic for the
‘morning-after’ pill.]
The results indicate that peer pressure predominantly influenced adolescents’ perceptions of
sexual behaviour. Many of the respondents felt that their contemporaries were engaging in
sexual behaviour because of the pressure to conform and to feel accepted within their peer
Social Work/Maatskaplike Werk 2010:46(3)
group. This confirms findings by Vaux (1988), who emphasised the significant influence of
peer relationships in adolescence.
Although sexual activity amongst adolescents was largely considered the norm, the results
indicated that several of the learners felt uncomfortable with the notion that their
contemporaries (of the same age) were engaging in sexual behaviour. Research conducted in
South Africa indicates that the average age of first sexual encounter in South Africa is 17 years
for young women and 16.4 years for young men (Reproductive Health Research Unit, 2004).
However, the results from this study indicated that many of the respondents were well below
this age group. Costa et al. (1995) highlight that early sexual debut increases psychosocial
vulnerability. Learners seemed to be aware of this increased risk, even if only on an intuitive
Despite the notion amongst the respondents that sexual activity during adolescence is ‘normal’,
some of the learners (predominantly female) reported a sense of regret (either for themselves or
their friends) concerning sexual debut. They explained that the results of previous sexual
actions still have negative repercussions in their lives at present. Weichold, Silbereisen and
Schmitt-Rodermund (2003) state that early sexual involvement is related to overall poor
adjustment in adolescence.
Learners reported concerns about the poor use of contraception amongst friends and noted an
increasing number of pregnancies. This was most often remedied through abortion or the
‘morning-after’ pill as opposed to increased measures of contraception. Research by Lesch and
Bremridge (2006) highlights the prevalence of unprotected sex amongst teenagers in this
region, and confirms that the adolescent population is at risk.
The aim of the research is to provide a description of the psychosocial problems experienced by
the adolescent learners interviewed in three Quintile 5 schools in the Western Cape area. The
psychosocial problems described by the learners in this study strongly parallel the findings of
the Department of Health’s Youth Risk Behaviour Survey of 2002. The results highlight two
areas of concern: problems within the family setting and problems amongst peer groups
(usually because of a sense of peer pressure). These problems were deemed age appropriate and
seemed to occur predominantly in interactions in these two settings. It is important to bear in
mind that, according to Bronfenbrenner (1979), there is a reciprocal relationship between the
individual and his/her surrounding systems. As a result, psychosocial problems which manifest
in an individual’s life often mirror and interact with problems in the wider systems of society.
The results of this study therefore emphasise the significant role that family and peer
relationships play in the development and functioning of the adolescent.
Through the research process, a second area of interest began to develop, although it was
initially not part of the focus of the study. While interacting with members from the schools
and surrounding community, the researchers began to realise that there is a common
misperception that learners from above-average socio-economic settings do not have
psychosocial problems, and that the resources in these settings adequately provide for the needs
of the learners. However, on closer examination the results revealed that many of these learners
have significant psychosocial problems that are currently not sufficiently addressed in their
school and home environments. In addition, the literature review revealed a paucity of
information on the psychosocial needs and problems of learners from affluent settings; most
articles focused on the problems of learners in low socio-economic settings. It would seem that
Social Work/Maatskaplike Werk 2010:46(3)
the voice of the “privileged” learner is not being heard, despite evidence that he/she may have
significant psychosocial problems.
The results of this study indicate that family and peer-related psychosocial problems were the
most significant factors interfering with the effective functioning of these adolescents. The
authors recommend that additional research should be completed focusing on the accessibility
of resources for adolescents. The focus of such supplementary research could be aimed at
ascertaining the perceptions of adolescent learners concerning the availability of resources
within the family, peer and school systems.
This study aimed at identifying and providing a description of the psychosocial problems
experienced by adolescent learners in these three Quintile 5 schools; however, there is still a
need for additional research aimed at establishing causality of these psychosocial problems.
This information will significantly support the design and implementation of future
intervention strategies in these schools aimed at reducing the effects of psychosocial problems
and preventing future problems.
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Full-text available
This research aimed at identifying patterns of substance abuse among South African adolescents and exploring the relationship between psychological well-being and substance abuse. Psychological well-being was assessed with selected items of the Bar-On EQ-I and Diener's Life Satisfaction scale. Self-reported substance abuse patterns of 1 918 learners between the ages of 12 and 19 from 13 schools in Tshwane were recorded. Schools were selected to represent the population composition of the area. It was found that substance abuse (current alcohol use, excessive alcohol use, and use of illicit drugs) increased with age and that nearly twice as many males as females abused substances. Language group was found to be a determining factor with regard to current and excessive use of alcohol; however, it was not found to influence drug use. An analysis of variance showed that adolescents who used drugs had significantly lower levels of psychological well-being and life satisfaction. The same was not found for excessive use of alcohol. The results can contribute to a better understanding of substance use behaviour and to identifying adolescents who may be at risk of abuse.
Full-text available
The prevalence of substance use and high-risk sexual behaviour of 460 primary school learners, from four schools in a historically disadvantaged urban area, was investigated. It was found that 14% of the primary school learners in this study currently used alcohol, 4% smoked marihuana, 3% sniffed solvents, 9% used over-the-counter medicines and 2% used illegal drugs. Of the 24% of learners that reported being sexually experienced, only 40% protected themselves from HIV/AIDS and 35% used birth control measures. Furthermore, the learners indicated tha t they d id n ot exp erience hig h levels of su pp ort from their fam ilies and friends and many of them were exposed to substance abuse in their homes. The m ajority of the learners were of the opinion that substance use and sexual activity were inappropriate behaviour for their age group. Recommendations are made for prevention strategies aimed at primary school learners.
This paper aims to provide surveillance information about the extent and consequences of alcohol and other drug (AOD) use by adolescents for three sentinel sites in South Africa (Cape Town, Durban and Gauteng province). From 1997 to 2001, data were gathered from multiple sources, including specialist treatment centres, trauma units, school students, rave party attenders, and arrestees. Since the start of surveillance, an increasing proportion of South African adolescents are using AODs. Surveys point to high levels of alcohol misuse among high school students, with alcohol being the most common substance of abuse. Cannabis is the most frequently reported illicit drug of abuse among adolescents. This is reflected in the large proportion of adolescents receiving treatment for cannabis, cannabis-positive arrestees, and cannabis-positive trauma patients. Cannabis smoked together with methaqualone is the second most common primary drug of abuse in Cape Town. Arrestee data highlights the potentially negative effect of adolescent methaqualone use. Cocaine and heroin are emerging as problem drugs of abuse among adolescents in large metropolitan centres. Ecstasy (MDMA) use occurs mainly among adolescents who attend rave parties and clubs. The study points to the need for AOD intervention programmes that target young people and the need for continued monitoring of adolescent AOD use in the future.
Learning theory and schema theory were evaluated as possible explanations for the variance found in the adjustment of adolescent children of divorce. Self-report questionnaires were completed by first year Psychology and Economics students at Stellenbosch University. Participants completed Antonovsky's Life Orientation Questionnaire (measuring adjustment); Hudson's CAM and CAF questionnaires (measuring relationships with mother and father, respectively); and a set of questions measuring attitude to divorce; as well as a biographical questionnaire. Schema theory was not supported conclusively, as results showed only limited evidence for attitude to divorce acting as a mediator between the parent-child relationship and the child's adjustment. Results did, however, support learning theory as an adequate explanation for the positive correlations found between parent-adolescent relationships and adolescent adjustment. Knowledge of the importance of learning theory in explaining variance in adolescent adjustment to divorce can increase parents' awareness of their influence on their children's adjustment. This can also be used in the design of therapeutic programs for families going through divorce.