Travel: a bridge to responsibility for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds

6 minutes to read
Writing: Eva Milko, Good Vibes Strategy
Jeune homme de dos devant une montagne.

“Adolescence is a very rich period if we let a young person take responsibility early on without challenging them.”

– Françoise Dolto, La cause des adolescents

While adolescence is a time of life when taking responsibility is essential for growing up, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are generally less active, whether it be in their homes, their communities, society in general or the professional world.

Nevertheless, according to sociologist Michel Fize, “It is [….] by making decisions that adolescents can best adapt to themselves and to others, that their personality reveals itself, in a way, to itself.” According to psychoeducator Vickie Bois, taking responsibility not only fosters a feeling of competence and self-efficacy, but also influences young people’s decisions, whether it be in their choice of friends or their problem-solving.

How can we explain this paradox, given that teens from disadvantaged backgrounds encounter more difficulties than their more well-off peers? It would be logical for them to want to do more to improve their environment.

Many factors, such as lack of self-confidence, future prospects or financial and educational resources, can explain this lack of commitment among these teenagers.

By offering the chance to work on a project that opens up new horizons for them, travel can enable these young people to take their place in society and reveal skills they had previously underestimated.

Why do young people from precarious backgrounds have more difficulty taking initiative? 

While some young people from disadvantaged backgrounds would like to improve their environment, they often face challenges that impede their ability to take initiative.

As a result, we see that they are more prone to self-esteem problems and relational and emotional issues, which can affect their ability to socialize and commit to various tasks.

According to psychoeducator Vickie Bois, taking on responsibility for a task requires having enough confidence in one’s ability to succeed; otherwise, most teenagers prefer to avoid the situation or to isolate themselves.

Their sometimes-negative self-perception can also limit their ability to express themselves and establish positive relationships with others, which can discourage their participation in initiatives involving collaboration with other young people.

Deux paires de jambes avec des souliers devant un mur avec des grafitis.

Moreover, the difficulties that teens face (dropping out of school, conflicts with family or peers, addiction, low self-esteem, etc.) can prevent them from resolving their personal problems and from getting involved in any outside causes. 

Caught up in their sometimes-complicated issues, teenagers can also feel a lack of meaning in their lives and discouragement about the future, whether professional, personal or family-related.  According to Bois, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds often have unclear, unstable and poorly developed life plans. 

Young people who are caught up in their family’s economic situation may therefore be more interested in activities that offer them material benefits than in altruistic endeavours. According to Bois, they may prefer to work at small jobs to earn extra income, rather than committing to years-long academic programs with no quick results, or volunteering for social causes. 

These volunteer activities are all the more inaccessible to them, as young people from disadvantaged backgrounds have less access to education and culture, which limits their knowledge of the various actions possible in their environment. As a result, they generally have fewer opportunities for civic engagement, extracurricular activities or mentoring programs, which deprives them of environments conducive to developing their spirit of initiative. Yet these opportunities are crucial to broadening their horizons and encouraging them to take responsibility. 

“Investing in travel is investing in yourself.”
– Matthew Karsten

Lastly, some young people from disadvantaged backgrounds lack positive role models in their environment which can limit their aspirations for future responsibility. Positive role models play an essential role in building self-confidence and self-esteem, which are key factors in taking on responsibility in an enlightened way. 

Nevertheless, we should note that many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds overcome these challenges and demonstrate an exceptional ability to take on responsibility, especially when they can benefit from educational programs or community initiatives such as those of the Saintlo Foundation. 

Consequently, for Bois, when young people are supported in their endeavours, they are able to develop new skills and overcome the obstacles they face.  Their perception of their environment becomes more reassuring, leading them to take on responsibilities with confidence, thanks to the safe environment that is available to them. 

How can travel with youth hostels help young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to take on responsibilities? 

Travel can have a big impact in helping young people from disadvantaged backgrounds take on responsibility, especially when it is linked to activities involving social and civic commitment. 

By raising teens’ awareness of civic commitment during the “Le monde et moi” workshops, and by getting them to take part in ecology-oriented activities during their trip with youth hostels, teenagers become more aware of their ability enact positive changes on their environment. 

When they participate in educational activities such as a trip to discover and protect nature, young people have the opportunity to become actively involved in issues that matter to them. This not only boosts their sense of usefulness and participation in society, but also helps them to forge their identity, get to know themselves better, and reflect on their values and their power to influence their future lives. 

Thanks to this awareness, young people become more in tune with their own situation and their ability to act positively on it. Teens who become socially involved improve not only their well-being, but also their academic success. 

Similarly, we have observed that involving young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in projects such as organizing a trip can have a remedial effect. Sometimes for the first time, they realize that their voice matters and can lead to concrete changes in their lives, enhancing their sense of competence and effectiveness. According to Bois, the successes they experience improve their self-perception and self-esteem. 

Deux jeunes filles qui se tiennent par les épaules.

In the “Hors les murs” initiative (co-directed by Vickie Bois), young people from underprivileged backgrounds were offered the chance to take part in a humanitarian trip, and it was noted that the “micro-successes” experienced throughout the project, as well as its completion, helped them to start believing that a change in their reality was possible. For many of them, “Hors les murs” became the cornerstone of a process of change, the belief that if they succeeded in this project, they would be able to face other challenges that would come their way in the future. 

After the trip, 58% of parents reported that their teens were better able to solve their problems, and 57% said they had increased their motivation and attendance at school (50%). 

In addition, when teens participate in the planning and implementation of their trip, they find a unique opportunity to develop their ability to manage their time and stress, identify their needs and take on responsibility. All of this helps build their self-confidence and assertiveness, while enabling them to face the future challenges of their adult lives with more composure. 

Finally, by collaborating on a travel project with a group of peers, young people find an environment where they feel accepted and important. Through these connections, teens improve their communication and conflict management skills, and are better able to create meaningful emotional relationships. This social network enables teens to find comfort in their peers when they encounter psychological difficulties, and to make decisions about changing their lifestyle or circle of friends. 

According to Bois, “Travelling while committing to change opens up a whole world of opportunities for overcoming difficulties and living a fulfilling life.” 

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