Volume:4, Issue: 1

Apr. 1, 2012

Some Principles and Methods for Supporting the Socialization of Teenagers Living in Difficult Situations
Eugenia V. Kirzhoi [about]

DESCRIPTORS: teenagers in difficult life situations,  socialization, principles of education, camp life, social-educational support, J.Korczak,  rights of the child.

SYNOPSIS: The author has started a research on how to help at-risk teenagers by citing the model of a Janusz Korczak “Our House” Camp along with the principles and methods that proved successful.

Today in Russia there are many teenagers who are having difficulty with situations in their lives and they are in dire need of educational and social support. Their problems are primarily caused by the national social and international economic crises of the past few decades which have significantly impacted the status of the youth of our country. These problems have not only produced a large number of negative effects on teen development in their family life but also on their health, education, and leisure activities.

Although our research is an attempt to understand and deal with this complex and multidimensional problem, we have only just begun and all the ideas, principles, and methods presented in this article will need further, in-depth review and analysis.

We will begin by first defining the term, “teenagers having difficult situations in their lives.” Research literature shows that these are mostly teens from socially underprivileged and dysfunctional families; teens living without parental support; teens with disabilities and emotional or other sorts of disturbances in their development; kids living under extremely difficult conditions; young people who are victims of violence; or teenagers whose lives were disrupted due to specific circumstances which they cannot overcome independently or even with some help from the family. (1)

The difficult circumstances that impact the social, educational, and psychological problems of these types of teenagers underlie their disruptions. Socialization is normally understood to be the important process of development that enables the individual to interact with the surrounding world. (2, p.3) This process continues throughout life but teenagers are most vulnerable to negative influences at this stage of their development because of the psycho-physiological characteristics of their age group and the paucity of life experiences they have so far encountered.

In our opinion, in the series of options available to help a teenager facing a difficult, life situation, social-educational support is most important since it aims at creating the educational, psychological, and social conditions necessary for the teen’s success in the overall socialization process.

It is important to point out that the heart of this process lies in involving the teenager in positive social relationships with his contemporaries. In planning these types of activities, we need to be aware of certain risks. The teen may be rejected by his/her peers because of some physical, material, or cultural differences. The teen may himself/herself refuse to participate in group activities due to fear, lack of self-confidence, or uneasiness. There is a risk of isolation or self-isolation, aggressive or deviant behavior as the teen’s means of attempting to compensate for his/her perceived deficiencies or in attempting to overcome his/her lack of self-confidence. The teenager may develop difficulty in forming positive relationships because of his/her own lack of social experience or perhaps the lack of experience of the persons with whom he/she is attempting to interact.

In pursuing the problem of social-educational support for teenagers living in difficult situations, we used as our research base the participants in the International Korczak “Nash Dom” (Our House) Camp. During the period of the camp experience each year, teens of all kinds including those with wide varieties of disabilities have a rest from their “dysfunctional” families; their normal families; from their orphanage; from relatives who are raising them; from single parent or unusually large families; from poor or financially secure families; from their ethnically different surroundings; and even from their home countries. They gather into “new” camp families for a unique experience.

During the process of analyzing the activities of the camp’s group-leaders, we identified the humanistic principles they relied upon during the camp session, specifically those that: were used most often; proved helpful in overcoming the specific risks stated above; subtly drew “at risk teenagers” into the educational atmosphere of the camp; could create conditions whereby our “specific teens” might learn compensation skills for mitigating the impact of their difficult life circumstances; could help identify the individual potential of these teens; and could help them to acquire a cache of positive social experiences.

Our list of identified principles follows:

  • The principle of “the recognition of the right of a teenager”: to be valued as a person; to respect; to have his/her own opinion; to make mistakes; etc. as promulgated by Janusz Korczak.
  • The principle of “the full value of a child” and his/her equal rights in the community irrespective of appearance; advantages or disadvantages; social class; or physical or mental abilities or disabilities.
  • The principle of “individualization” meaning that the teacher/group leader provides activities based on the needs of each specific teenager and not just on abstract pedagogical goals. The camp provided differentiated educational space to enable the focus of activities to be rightfully placed on the needs and interests of each teenager.
  • The principle of “integration” whereby our “identified teens” were interspersed in the total camp group in order to avoid their isolation and eventual unification into “special groups.” Their inclusion in the overall child/teen community of the camp is the basis for successful socialization and eventual social rehabilitation.
  • The principle of “support for the merits of each teen person” which allows the teenager the opportunity for correcting, compensating, and/or repairing any possible disadvantages that he/she has brought to camp.
  • The principle of “agreement” meaning getting the teenagers to offer their opinions and ideas in the construction of the “daily life of the camp” thereby building in them experiences of “individual responsibility for the success” of camp life.
  • The principle of “volunteerism” which provides teenagers with opportunities for personal choice wherein they may show initiative in developing activities and in solving problems.
  • The principle of “topicality,” or flexibility for the teacher/group leader to deal with an item of individual or group interest “here and now.” This gives the leader autonomy and flexibility in managing the immediate conditions and provides the teens with necessary and significant social interactions that can maximize the potential of the camp experience.
  • The principle of “flexibility” and openness to allow for necessary changes to the camp schedule or specific activities as well as the ability to join or remove oneself from activities when necessary.
  • The principle of “reflection” or self-awareness through introspection as a means for realizing one’s full potential and full participation in the life of the camp and throughout one’s life.

The goals of these principles are accomplished through the use of various forms and methods of organization of the educational atmosphere of the camp. We will identify a few of them that have proven particularly valuable in our work with “teens from difficult circumstances”:

  • First, of course, must come the special training provided the group leaders of “Nash Dom” including study and recognition of the various nuances and features of the different types of physical and psychological disabilities which our campers may be experiencing.
  • Second, there is a thorough study of each individual coming to camp conducted through interviews with the teen, parents, and/or relatives about problems and personal requirements.
  • Third, all campers must read and accept the rules for camp life stated in the camp’s constitution which is based on Janusz Korczak’s  “Rights of the Child” and is prominently posted in the camp gathering spaces.
  • Fourth, the family structure of the camp wherein all campers live in small groups (no more than twelve) or “families.” This structure helps our leaders to pay close attention to each teenager, listening and learning his/her needs on a daily basis.
  • Fifth, is our insistence on the inclusion of “our teens experiencing difficult life circumstances” with their peers in all aspects of daily camp life including the organization of games, sports, creative activities, special organized tasks, and even opportunities for responsibly working with younger camp groups.

We believe that the principles and methods described above allow us to open up the full camp experience including its social and educational support to all teens and especially to those facing difficult circumstances in their lives. We believe that our social and educational camp activities constructed according to these principles can provide a soothing amelioration of the negative consequences of their unfortunate circumstances, can promote the positive development of personal responsibility, and initiate these teens into the possibilities of positive relationships in the world surrounding them.


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Kirzhoi, Eugenia Vsevolodovna  [In Russian: Евгения Всеволодовна Киржой], doctorate student at Russian Academy of In-service Training for Educational Faculty, Moscow, Russia.

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