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What Does the Concept of Vulnerability Mean in Adolescence?

The vulnerability is not just about individual exposure to physical, psychological or emotional harm. It also refers to the inability of people, communities or societies to overcome the impact of stressors to which they are exposed. It is a broad concept that also includes a social dimension and is at risk of not realizing their potential to achieve positive life outcomes. Therefore, it may have its roots in poverty, social exclusion, ethnicity, disability, only illness, or certain developmental stages of life. Recently, interest in vulnerability has grown in the scientific community and different measures have been gradually developed at both the macro and micro theoretical levels.

It includes combined macro-country-level measures to capture a country’s susceptibility to shocks and its ability to recover. Second, it refers to individual or community levels that can be further aggregated to form a society or even a country vulnerability measure. However, it is quite difficult to identify and assess vulnerability at both the individual and community level. Not only because of the different combined measures available, but also because it involves a longitudinal perspective and requires cost-effective / effective means of a particular person, household or community, in years or before and after a known hazard rarely existed.

The issue becomes even more complex when vulnerability is assessed in adolescents, where many of the existing indicators gradually lose their explanatory power. Research and experimental experience evidence has shown that adolescents do not always act in their own interests. Their perception of their own risks in short and long-term outcomes is much greater than reality, as they often underestimate the risk associated with certain actions or, more generally, with certain choices. Vulnerable young people incorporate traits and experiences that put them at risk of developing problematic behaviors and consequences that increase the potential to hurt their community, or more often both. There is a need for interdisciplinary research that conceptualizes, measures, and evaluates the burden of adolescent vulnerability, and research aimed at identifying factors that potentially protect or prevent adolescents from their impact, especially in emergencies.

Indeed, it is advisable to mix approaches designed to explore as broadly as possible the complexity that coexists in risk and protective adolescents’ choices and perceptions of their own vulnerabilities. Based on the premises, various sources of indicators have been proposed that create similarities in some cases, while dwelling on different paradigms in other cases. For example, risky behaviors are a set of commonalities consistent with the so-called risk approach, where young people’s vulnerability is seen as an effect because they pose an experimental threat to their lives. On the other hand, there may be a protective or buffering approach aimed at identifying individual, environmental characteristics or conditions that may reduce the effects of stressful life events. An important contribution to both approaches comes from the group of World Health Organization’s Collaborative Health Behavior in School-Age (HBSC) researchers. The HBSC is a four-year cross-national study that asks 11, 13, and 15-year-olds about their health, well-being, social environment, and choices in a wide range of health and well-being.

Contribution from researchers in different disciplinary fields has allowed the study to gradually expand and overcome known scientific barriers. The study represents the first and more comprehensive surveillance in adolescence. It allows researchers to move from an individual point of view to a broader perspective at the micro and meso community level and back to the level specific to individual age, gender and SES. In order to understand the evolutionary mechanisms that develop during adolescence, it is important to consider the presence of risk factors, namely the concept of vulnerability, in addition to the neurophysiological aspect of development. At the heart of this concept is a fundamental assumption that besides the physiological variability of development, there is also individual variability that may explain why some adolescents are at risk of practicing particularly dangerous, deviant behaviors.

Adolescents tend to implement coping strategies that lead to greater risks due to natural neurophysiological and individual development. In this respect, according to the evolutionary perspective, the human brain continues its ontogenetically development from birth, during adolescence and later in old age. In many areas of the brain, the set of connections between various neurons increases exponentially during the first months and years of life. It matures in adolescents and then gradually decreases, rotting in the elderly. One brain region in particular, the prefrontal cerebral cortex, which follows this trend more than others, each has variation in lifespan. It is involved in mental abilities and complex cognitive processes such as language, decision making, and social understanding, even in complex social situations. In fact, neuroscience research has helped to better understand this concept from an ontogenetic perspective, from birth to death. It turns out that there are two critical periods in a person’s life, namely adolescence and old age, because this is in the prefrontal cortex, which is a very important brain structure.

Adolescence Vulnerability

Anger is a universal emotion that everyone feels, so it shouldn’t be too worrying. In reality, the opposite happens: anger scares us. This is because the loss of control of anger can be an expression of rejection for the person or still an expression of true violence. Although it is very common, it is also very difficult to identify. It includes physiological activations, muscle tensions, cognitive processes, subjective experiences, and specific behaviors. Especially the latter can be very different, angry people can be very aggressive or destructive.

Although anger and oppositional behavior are not directly related to the onset of pathological disorders, they are important risk factors that can predict the onset of clinical problems if encountered at a young age. Therefore, it is very important to ask how children react to feelings of anger and what coping strategies they implement to protect themselves from possible negative consequences: Fabes and Eisenberg concluded in their study that the strategies applied can be completely different depending on their social skills and gender. Specifically, two researchers found that boys tend to express their anger more aggressively and express their anger more, while females prefer more assertive coping strategies. In addition, children with more social and popular skills tend to use strategies that minimize the likelihood of later experiencing other conflicts, as well as the risk of damaging social relationships involved in the conflict situation.

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