Swelled resilience for teenage sailors

October 23, 2016

Swelled resilience for teenage sailors

Spirit of New Zealand participants gain acceptance and support throughout their 10 day experience. Photo: Supplied / Richard Hodder

The psychological benefits of organised youth sea voyages have been highlighted in a University of Otago study.

The analysis focused on voyages run by the Spirit of Adventure Trust. School-age participants live on board the Spirit of New Zealand, a three-masted barquentine, for 10 days and engage in a number of team-building and upskilling activities.

The study was recently published in the British Journal of Social Psychology and looked at the psychological resilience of these participants.

“[It’s] basically whether or not they can overcome challenges and deal with stresses,” said Otago University psychology professor Dr Damian Scarf.

Dr Scarf chose to take up the study after facing personal challenges during his youth.

“In a New Zealand context, mental health is a big issue.

“Resilience work is a way to look at that issue and see what things help our youth development.”

The researchers measured the students one month before the voyage, on its first and last day, and then again nine months later.

Dr Scarf said they found positive emotions increased from the first to last day and were maintained over the next nine months.

Resilience was assessed through anonymous questionnaires, “embedded amongst questions about self-esteem, prejudice and self-efficacy”.

A sense of belonging was key, Dr Scarf said, adding it showed that being accepted by people around you was critical to youth development.

Sue Janett, operations director at Spirit of Adventure Trust, said the voyages help youth gain a better understanding of themselves and others.

“Everyone comes away with something.”

Nineteen-year-old Sedef Duder-Özyurt went on a voyage in 2014 and said it gave her personal assurance for her final year of school.

“I grew as a person in terms of how I understand myself.”

The ex-Auckland Girls’ Grammar School head girl is now working towards a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and politics. Last year, she sailed from Spain to Turkey last year for the ANZAC Day centennial commemoration.

“Spirit of New Zealand really geared me up for that.”

Ms Duder-Özyurt said the experience may be challenging at first, but firm friendships helped. She is still in contact with her voyage mates.

Dr Scarf plans to continue his psychological studies and will start research with the R. Tucker Thompson Sail Training Trust, a Northland group that also runs youth development voyages, next year.

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