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Key themes - what the problem is

Monday 26 – Wednesday 28 February 2024


Understanding the complexities of adolescence, the impact of trauma and gender-based vulnerabilities

  1. In today’s world, adolescents face a myriad of challenges as they navigate the complexities of modern society. Adolescence is a period defined by physiological, psychological and social changes. This period presents a unique phase: situations of vulnerabilities, particularly gendered ones, overlap with societal and cultural norms, where adolescents, particularly adolescent girls, face a range of heightened risks. Individuals exposed to traumatic events early in life face additional risks and challenges, as trauma can disrupt neurobiological systems that play a key role in social interaction and in the ability to seek support. Adolescents often replay cycles of violence they have experienced when younger when starting to form their own relationships.
  2. The impact of adversity, violence or traumatic experiences on young people is not only immediate but also has long-term implications for development. Trauma has various physiological and psychological impacts that can alter developmental pathways. For instance, it can change the way adolescents construct autobiographical memory, altering how they use past experiences to navigate present challenges and circumstances. Moreover, adversity, violence and trauma can alter the ability to think critically and may affect the brain’s ability to navigate social interactions, sometimes impacting the way adolescents relate to others.
  3. Gender also plays a key role both in influencing the likelihood of exposure to different types of violence and traumatic situations and in the correlated consequences. For example, boys’ early exposure to violence directly or indirectly increases their risk of perpetrating violence later in life. Girls exposed to similar forms of violence show an increased risk of additional exposure to violence as victims later in life.

Navigating crises and trauma within a modern society

  1. In a world currently facing multiple crises, adolescents find themselves experiencing not only the challenges associated with adolescence but also significant concerns surrounding geopolitical crises, such as climate change, conflict and instability. In addition, numerous reports are highlighting the significant risks that adolescents are facing online.
  2. Alarming statistics reveal the staggering impact of violence and conflict, with one in six children living near conflict zones globally[2], and an adolescent experiencing violence every seven minutes[3].
  3. Furthermore, the threat of climate change exacerbates the strains adolescents face, with impacts on both physical and mental health. Extreme heat has also been associated with an increase in mental health issues, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder in adolescents. Many of these effects are also gendered. For instance, lack of water and sanitation facilities due to increasingly harsh climate conditions disproportionately affects adolescent girls who are not able to meet their personal needs and who often are primarily responsible for household chores such as cleaning and cooking[4].
  4. In today’s interconnected society, young people also experience a unique set of challenges related to the omnipresence of digital devices and smartphones. Although technology offers connectivity, paradoxically, young people often find themselves feeling disconnected despite being continuously plugged in. Indeed, the allure of social media and digital platforms can lead to a sense of isolation from real-life connections and interactions, as many adolescents primarily communicate virtually, rather than face to face. Pressures associated with social media may amplify feelings of social comparison, exacerbating feelings of inadequacy and insecurity among adolescents.
  5. Another major area of concern with social media includes technology-facilitated violence including gender-based violence, which also carries its own set of risks and dangers, many of which are to date, under researched. In addition, many harmful norms that exist offline are amplified online with adolescents increasingly learning online about relationships, gender norms and sex.
  6. Balancing safe digital engagement with offline interactions is a major challenge for adolescents, underscoring the need for strategies to facilitate healthy technology use and promote authentic, in-person connections in our ever-present digital age.

[2] Save the Children (2023) “Stop the War on Children: Let Children Live in Peace”:

[3] UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) “A Familiar Face: Violence in the Lives of Children and Adolescents” November 2017:

[4] UNICEF (2023) “The climate-changed child: A children’s climate risk index supplement” climate-changed child – Report in English.pdf


Building resilient societies: the impact of adversity, violence or traumatic experiences on adolescent brain, mental health and psychosocial development


Key themes – barriers faced when supporting adolescents exposed to adversity, violence or traumatic experiences

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