UCL Grand Challenges


Adolescent Lives

The Adolescent Lives initiative has taken in work spanning across all six Grand Challenges: find out what impact these new collaborations have had so far.

In 2017-18, UCL’s Grand Challenge of Cultural Understanding led a pan-Grand Challenges initiative focused on Adolescent Lives, to support cross-disciplinary activity from across the UCL research community. The work addressed three topics: what is adolescence, youth prospects, and youth identities. Details of all the projects funded under this initiative are available here

The initiative aimed to enable the voices of young people to be heard on a range of areas including environment, housing, ownership of culture, and issues of inclusion and exclusion; to understand how they articulate concerns, and to explore the changing nature of a sense of person, place and community. In addition, the Adolescent Lives theme sought to question the limits and scope of adolescence (as defined in social, educational and medical contexts), and answer the question, "what does the term 'adolescent' encompass?" Through the lenses of different cultures, and social and economic perspectives, what does adolescence mean in modern Britain, and in other nations globally, today?

The projects have already started to have an impact, as was apparent during a one-day showcase workshop in which the projects presented their emerging, innovative, cross-disciplinary research activities and findings. The presentations are detailed below. More in-depth details of the projects' impacts can be found on the Grand Challenges Adolescent Lives blog

Dr Emily Emmott from the UCL Thomas Coram Research Unit in the Institute of Education and Francesca Vaghi carried out a one day workshop asking a group of teenagers to share views and opinions about what 'adolescence' means to them. Their findings are a fascinating glimpse into what adolescence is all about today:

Dr Humera Iqbal, Lecturer in Psychology, Department of Social Science, Institute of Education, in collaboration with Dean Veall, Learning and Access Officer, Grant Museum of Zoology, Professional Services, and Dr Katie Quy, Lecturer in Psychology, Department of Social Science, Institute of Education to explore what impact using ideas from museum spaces and creative practice had on young people based at psychiatric inpatient settings. The project asked how can we foster a sense of belonging in young people with mental health needs in inpatient hospital settings a) to wider society (and a connection to the outside world) b) within the unit as a space of wellbeing?

Dr Alison Macdonald, from UCL's Department of Anthropology, collaborated with Lasse Johansson a documentary filmaker at UCL, and Sally Dennehy a state school teacher in Somerset, to produce a film aimed at understanding adolescence in the context of permanent school exclusion in non-selective state schools and to challenge societal misconceptions about the ‘excluded kid’. 

Dr Will Mandy, Senior Lecturer in UCL Clinical, Educational & Health Psychology, and Laura Hull, PhD student in the Research Department of Clinical, Educational & Health Psychology at UCL developed a guide for autistic adolescents' using social media.

Dr Claire Mokrysz and Dr Will Lawn from Clinical Psychophamacology, UCL Clinical Educational & Health Psychology, worked with colleagues in UCL's Applied Health Research unit to examine what London-based adolescents think about cannabis use, identity and the pros and cons of cannabis use. The project also investigated longitudinal associations between cannabis-related identity and cannabis problems in teenagers. 

Dr Melanie Ramdarshan Bold, Senior Lecturer in UCL Information Studies, and Dr Leah Phillips', PDRA at UCL's Knowledge Lab, project has been examining what impact a lack of diversity in young adult fiction is having on adolescents. The project has created an infographics and reading list, YouTube channel, and blog. 

Dr Geordan Shannon, Research Assistant in the UCL Institute for Global Health, has been working with the SHM Foundation on the 160 Characters Project aimed at creating a new, interdisciplinary research framework for understanding the potential of mobile messaging for the treatment of mental health. The research aimed to crack the 60,000+ messages generated by Project Khuluma - a peer to peer social support program for adolescents living with HIV in South Africa. In August 2018, the SHM Foundation and UCL Global Health convened a workshop that involved analysis of the messages using the ‘six voices’ framework. The voices of medical science, social science, literature, technology, implementation science and participants themselves came together to generate new insights into the mental health and wellbeing needs of adolescents living with HIV.

Dr Jamie A. Ward from the UCL Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience worked with colleagues at Goldsmiths and the Flute Theatre company on the project, 'Expanding the social self through theatre in adolescents with autism'. The paper shows that by visualising each child’s engagement over the course of a performance, it is possible to highlight subtle moments of social coordination that might otherwise be lost when reviewing video footage alone. This is important because it points the way to a new method for people who work with autistic children to be able to monitor the development of those in their care, and to adapt their therapeutic activities accordingly. 

Kim Whitehead, an early career researcher in neurobiology and Professor Matthew Beaumont, Professor of English Literature and Co-Director of UCL's Urban Lab, joined together to explore the little-understood world of sleep and sleep disorders through the disparate disciplines of neurology, literature, and art. Their project asked: is the concept of sleeplessness learned in adolescence and, if so, does this explain why insomnia is rare before adulthood? In a recent issue of The Lancet, they also argued for the need for an inter-disciplinary approach to sleep research.

In addition, in academic year 2018-19, the Grand Challenge of Justice & Equality is supporting two small grant projects with a direct focus on adolescence, and the Grand Challenge of Human Wellbeing is supporting one:

Dr Kartikeya Tripathi (UCL Security & Crime Science) and Dr Julian Walker (UCL Development Planning Unit): Police response to runaway adolescents on Mumbai’s rail network: A study on transition from preserving public order to protecting child rights

This project examines the Government Railway Police’s transition from a risk management model which prioritises public order to one emphasising children’s rights and welfare, in their response to runaway and trafficked adolescents  on Mumbai's rail network. By undertaking a content analysis of police procedures and policy, conducting a series of in-depth qualitative interviews with detectives, medical experts, counsellors and volunteers, the project will study this transition and its implications for child welfare. This will then inform the development of an institutional analysis to explore the factors supporting and inhibiting the ability of the organizations involved to  promote the welfare of runaway and trafficked adolescents picked up in Mumbai’s railway stations.

Researchers' update, 13 Novmeber 2018: In November 2018 the team travelled to Mumbai for a first round of interviews with NGOs and Mumbai Railway Police staff and to define the research strategy. The main round of research will be carried out in the first half of 2019.

Dr Charlotte Woodhead (UCL Applied Health Research) and Sarah Beardon (Centre for Access to Justice, UCL Laws): Young people’s mental health and access to socio-legal support

The project takes a systems-based approach to examine the role of integrated socio-legal/social welfare and mental health support for young people aged 16-25 years provided by Youth Information, Advice and Counselling Services (YIACS). Through a series of workshops, the project aims to develop understanding of how access to socio-legal and mental health support influences young people, which young people do/don’t access support in this way, and how these services form part of/interact with wider system elements that also affect access to mental health and social welfare legal support.  
Researchers' update, 9 November 2018: Youth Access, one of the project’s external collaborators, is currently making contact with partner organisations to invite staff and young people to take part in the workshops. Two workshops will be run, each with six Youth Information, Advice and Counselling (YIACS) staff members - one held in Manchester (6th December) and one in London (4th December) and two workshops each with six young people with experience of using YIACS services will be held in Berwick-upon-Tweed (2nd December) and in Bristol (13th December).

Dr Gabriella Conti (UCL Institute of Education and Department of Economics) and Professor Pasco Fearon (UCL Brain Sciences): Boosting positive development in adolescence: a pilot study on meditation in school.

The project assesses the acceptability of meditation programmes in school settings, and their effects on adolescents’ academic achievement, self-esteem, stress, and social ties. The pilot randomized controlled trial will take place in an English secondary school and combine the knowledge of the neural and mental processes underlying adolescent development which are studied in the brain sciences domain with the expertise on how positive development is fostered through school-based interventions, coming from the educational and economic sciences.