Healthy Start Stories |
Eveline Crone

From childhood to adulthood: ‘Adolescence is certainly not only a difficult phase, young people also develop very positive qualities.’

Laziness, truancy, drug use. Adolescence is a difficult phase. At least, that’s what was thought for a long time. This notion has now become obsolete. In recent years it has become clear that the transition from childhood to adulthood is also accompanied by the development of positive qualities and needs. What do we actually know about that? And what can we do with this knowledge? But also: how do we involve young people in scientific research into developments in their lives? Eveline Crone, professor of Developmental Neuroscience in Society and one of the initiators of Healthy Start, tells us about this.

“During our lives we go through a number of major transitions. From baby to toddler, from toddler to toddler and from child to adolescent to adult. The transition from one phase of life to the next is extremely interesting and at the same time very complex. I find adolescence especially a fascinating phase. This stage of life begins around age 10 and continues until about age 25. It is a period in which young people search for their identity and their place in society. A development that does not always go without a hitch. Some young people come into contact with alcohol, drugs or even with the police. At the same time, it is also a period in which many positive qualities develop. For example, many young people have a growing need to work together and want to mean something to society. These developments fascinate me the most. I hope that more attention to positive developments in adolescence will eventually help young people to get the best out of themselves.”

Traditionally, adolescence is considered a difficult phase

Changes in the brain

“When I started my career as a scientist twenty years ago, the idea prevailed that adolescence is just a difficult phase. Young people are rebellious, have a big mouth and in some cases they play truant or even commit a crime. It is true that some young people take more risks when adolescence starts. This has a lot to do with the development of the brain. For example, around the age of 15, the brain goes through a growth spurt in which it becomes more sensitive to reward, sensation and excitement. However, not all young people get into trouble. In fact; almost 80% of young people get through the period of adulthood without too much hassle.

In recent years, extensive neuroscientific research has been conducted into brain development in young people. This shows that the same brain development that leads to negative behavior can also trigger positive developments. For example, most young people will start to value others more. Friendships become more intense and the need to work together grows. Many young people also feel more involved in problems in the world and like to think along in solutions.

Adolescence therefore also has positive sides. But for a long time, science and society have hardly paid any attention to this. Shame. After all, why shouldn’t we give more room to the positive developments of young people? Wouldn’t young people then be able to use their full potential much more? Consider, for example, school subjects. Now they are mainly focused on factual knowledge. But if we know that young people like to work together or want to make their voice heard, then it is an interesting idea to also pay attention to this in education so that the natural needs of young people are reinforced.”

Why should we not give much more room to the positive developments of young people?

Need for a different kind of science

“With the establishment of Healthy Start, it is possible for the first time to conduct large-scale research into the positive development that young people go through. That is really a unique opportunity. I hope that more knowledge about this will eventually help to bring out the best in young people. But Healthy Start offers more. When I founded Healthy Start together with Vincent Jaddoe (Erasmus MC) and Maaike Kleinsman (TU Delft), we felt that there was a need for a different way of doing research. A form in which different disciplines seek out and reinforce each other. Traditionally, scientific disciplines have been strongly separated from each other. But in recent years, scientists have realized that they need each other. For example, if we want to innovate education, this not only requires experts in the field of education, but also knowledge in the field of digitization, inclusiveness and mental health.

Another interesting change that is happening is the idea that knowledge does not belong exclusively to universities and other knowledge institutions. We are increasingly realizing that society also possesses an enormous amount of knowledge. That is also the reason that within Healthy Start we actively seek cooperation with practice, policy, young people and parents. In my research projects, for example, I work with youth organizations such as the MIND Us Foundation, Lieve Mark and the National Youth Council, but also, for example, with the Kindertelefoon and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.”

This is the alternative text in English.

We realize that knowledge not only lies with universities, but also in society

Respond faster to developments in society

“By actively collaborating with all kinds of different target groups, we as scientists can respond much more quickly to what is going on in society. For example, at the moment I am mainly concerned with the theme of ‘social inequality among young people’. This subject came my way during the corona crisis. Due to the lockdown, almost all young people were forced to attend school at home. But that unintentionally created major differences. For example, not every young person had access to a laptop or computer with a properly working internet at home. These kinds of differences in preconditions can ultimately lead to enormous social inequality.

With a team of researchers, we continuously map out what young people struggle with, what they need and what solutions they themselves come up with. This allows us to respond quickly to what is going on in society, feed our findings back to young people, receive feedback on this and use this input to conduct further research. For me this is a new way of working. Not only is it faster and more dynamic than the traditional way of doing research, it also makes you more vulnerable as a scientist. After all, we share thoughts, ideas and findings at an early stage of the research and then receive input that we also have to do something with.

One of the lessons I’ve learned is that it’s really important to be humble as a scientist. Both in conversations with young people, but also with other social partners. Let yourself be fed with knowledge and in the meantime keep checking whether you have really understood the other person. As far as I am concerned, we as scientists are drivers of new knowledge and it is our task to transfer that knowledge as effectively as possible so that professionals in practice and policy can really bring about change.”

This new way of working means that as a scientist you must dare to be vulnerable

Eveline Crone’s Healthy Start perspective
“For me, Healthy Start is a success if we not only achieve the set goals, but also have created a stable network containing scientists, practitioners, young people, parents and other stakeholders. I think it’s important that our network is as inclusive as possible. Because everyone has unique skills. Let’s use and strengthen them.
Good cooperation also requires space and trust. We do not yet know what we will encounter, which solutions we will or will not find. That’s why I call on everyone, including myself, not to want to check everything. Sometimes it’s okay to loosen the strings a bit and just see what comes our way. There is a nice word for this in English: serendipity, which roughly translates as ‘fluke’. Let’s create space for new ideas to emerge. I have every confidence that this will bring about something beautiful.”

Eveline Crone is Professor of Developmental Neurosciences in Society at Erasmus University Rotterdam. She is Academic Lead of Healthy Start and involved in ambitions ‘Mental well-being of youth’ and ‘Youth participation and involvement’.

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