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Forum: Helping Kids! Children's Peacebuilding in Divided Societies

February 25, 2019

On Friday February 22, Dr Laura Taylor (University College Dublin / Queen’s University Belfast) joined the RIT/A.U.K campus to share findings from a decade on research on children’s and youth’s prosocial behaviours in the context on political conflict and social divide. Dr Taylor situated her research in Northern Ireland, a setting marked by a 30-year conflict from 1968-1998, with continued intergroup hostility and tension. She described how children in post-accord context (that is, born after the 1998 peace agreement) are socialized by families, peers, communities and school settings. For example, the majority of Belfast housing is relatively homogenous by community background (Catholic/Protestant) and 94% of children attend schools based on community background. However, despite this adversity and social division, Dr. Taylor described how young people are engaging in constructive ways to improve the lives of those around them and advance the greater good.

Helping Kids

For example, the academic literature on how experience with political conflict affects children’s prosocial behaviours is divided. A number of studies find a positive link; that is, greater exposure to conflict is associated with more prosocial acts, or those which aim to benefit another person without personal profit or external award. A different set of studies, however, found the opposite pattern; that is, children who experience more political conflict are less likely to act prosocially. What to make of this contradictory set of findings? Dr. Taylor’s research sets out to test a series of hypotheses which can synthesize this research, while also identifying specific intervention and policy implications.

During the public lecture, Dr. Taylor described the findings from a recent, six-year longitudinal study of adolescents (ages 10- 20 years old) and their mothers in Belfast (see Taylor, Merrilees, Goeke-Morey, Shirlow, & Cummings, in press, Developmental Psychology). Using advanced statistics, this paper teases apart three factors: how prosocial behaviours may change with age, the timing of exposure to intergroup conflict, and the type of prosocial behaviour. She found that prosocials behaviours decrease with across adolescence, with a sharper decline after age 15; this decline is accelerated for those who experience more intergroup violence. Moreover, these trajectories or changes in interpersonal prosocial acts, like helping or being kind to others, have implications for youth’s later civic engagement, in both volunteering and political spheres. In summary, the intervention implications were to target programming toward youth in middle adolescence, before they can leave formal schools, and those areas with higher levels of intergroup conflict.

Building on this programmatic line of research, Dr. Taylor and other colleagues at Queen’s have been partnering with RIT Kosovo’s Edona Maloku and University American College’s Ana Tomovska over the last two years. Together, they have carried out a new phase of research under the Helping Kids! project (http://helpingkidsqubblog.wordpress.com). This research focuses on younger children, ages 5/6 to 11 years old. In particular, this cross-cultural approach allows for the teams to compare the universal and unique aspects of how growing up in divided societies affects children's cognition, attitudes and behaviours. In particular, recognising the agency of children to affect the world around them, this research explores how to improve intergroup relations and to promote the antecedents of peacebuilding among children.
For more on the findings from Kosovo, see a recent blog post by Edona Maloku: https://prishtinainsight.com/the-colors-that-divide/.

For students at RIT Kosovo interested in volunteering with the Helping Kids! project, please be in touch with Edona Maloku.

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