Healthy Start Stories |
Lysanne te Brinke

Caring about youth: ‘Many adolescents feel that their opinion and ideas are not valued’

Puberty is characterized by change. This goes beyond just physical development. Adolescents also discover what they consider important in life and develop their own vision on society. Do we – as a society – care enough about the input of adolescents? How can we use the input of adolescents to tacke societal problems? And; howe do we actually reach them? Dr. Lysanne te Brinke, scientist, ambition leader and Convergence Fellow on the theme of ‘Youth Participation and Involvement’, shares her insights.

“Adolescence, puberty, emerging adulthood. There are different names for the transition phase from childhood to adulthood. A period that is often accompanied by intense emotions and feelings of uncertainty or frustration. At the same time, this developmental phase is also characterized by a growing need to contribute. Adolescents want to make their voices heard and contribute to societal challenges. However, the majority of adolescents and young adults feel that their opinion and ideas are not taken seriously. They don’t feel heard. My Healthy Start fellowship therefore focuses on how we can value the contributions of youth, and what consequences this has for both youth and society.”

Adolescents want to contribute to societal challenges and raise their voice


“My interest in adolescence and young adulthood was sparked during my psychology studies at Utrecht University. I learned that between the ages of 12 and 25 a lot of changes happen simultaneously. It is the period in life when individuals find their own place in society and learn to stand on their own feet. For example, friend become more important, while the need to be with parents decreases. Behavior also changes, emotions become stronger and the desire for independence grows.
When I was an adolescencent, I also went through a period of change. During my secondary education, I was admitted to the Young Talent program at the Conservatory. Every Monday, I traveled to cities such as The Hague, Amsterdam and Hilversum to study the violin. Not only did this experience quickly make me independent, I also learned to stand up for myself to ensure that my changing weekly schedules were adequately taken into account at school.”

Adolescents have the talent to come up with creative solutions to societal problems

From problems to ideas

“After graduating in clinical psychology, I started my PhD research into behavioral problems in adolescence. Specifically, I focused on adolescents with aggressive behavior problems. I examined which treatments worked best for this target group. I learned a lot, and the results were of value to clinical practice. But I also discovered something else.

I realized that these adolescents, despite their beahavioral problems and sometimes difficult home situations, have a lot of talents. For example, the talent to come up with creative solutions and to think out-of-the-box. I spoke to a group of young people who really wanted to see each other during the corona crisis, but couldn’t because of the measures. They came up with the idea of organizing a silent disco at school so that they could still have fun together, while keeping distance. I also noticed that adolescents feel the need to contribute to society. For example, when the war broke out in Ukraine. I saw how adolescents started initiatives to collect money for victims of the war”

The majority of adolescents does not feel seen or heard

Caring about youth

“The fact that adolescents have the need to make their voices heard is also shown by scientific research. Yet, the vast majority of adolescents does not feel heard or seen. And that’s a shame. We also know that adolescents are more satisfied with their lives when they feel heard. At the same time, as a society, we could benefit from the out-of-the-box ideas of young people. Especially now, in a time when we are dealing with complex societal problems, such as increases in social inequality and a climate crisis. These major societal themes that determine the lives of new generations require creative solutions. Therefore, it is even more important that today’s generation of youth can be contribute to their own future.

Within Healthy Start, together with social partners and fellow scientists, I focus on the theme of ‘Youth Participation and Involvement’. We actively engage with adolescents to translate scientific insights into societal applications. For example, we recently brainstormed with youth about how we as a society can reduce the pressure to perform. Scientific research shows that many adolescents suffer from enormous pressure to perform in all kinds of areas in life. What solutions do adolescents see themselves? We subsequently share their insights with teachers, parents or policymakers.

What stands out in this research method, is that we collaborate with adolescents and take their input seriously. In doing so, we mainly try to reach out to adolescents who are usually not involved in scientific research. For example, adolescents from lower vocational education; they are usually not so prominent, but with their skills, they are the engine of our society. It is therefore even more important that their ideas are taken seriously”

Common ground

“Like most scientists within Healthy Start, I collaborate with many different people. Sometimes I talk to adolescents from the south of Rotterdam, sometimes with a scientist from a completely different field, or with a teacher, parent or policy officer. This so-called ‘transdisciplinary’ research requires new skills.

The most important lesson I have learned up until now, is that it is essential to keep finding common ground. What are the similarities between me and the person I am speaking to? Which ideas, ambitions, or interests do we share? To collaborate effectively with different people, I need to be able to listen and put myself in their shoes. Quite a challenge. But it actually motivates me to develop my teamwork skills even more.”

Lysanne te Brinke’s Healthy Start perspective
“As a Convergence Fellow, I am happy with the time I now have to bridge the gap between science and society. Normally, as a full-time university lecturer, there is little time and space for this. There are so many other tasks that demand your attention and have priority. Within Healthy Start I can do what I like and what I am good at: converting scientific results into concrete applications. In addition, I find it interesting to pay attention to the talents of young people instead of the problematic sides of their development. I am curious whether more interest in the contribution of young people has a positive effect on their mental health. I want to do more research on this in the future.”

Lysanne te Brinke is involved in as ambition leader in the ambition ‘Youth participation and involvement’ as the first Healthy Start Convergence Fellow.

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