Monthly Archives: March 2014

Finding Your Purpose, and Why it Matters

By Michelle Silver

Discovering your place in the world is no simple task, especially for an adolescent.  Yet it remains one of the most important processes of our lives.  Working towards establishing purpose helps youth travel a pathway to success, allowing them to form an identity, set goals, and eventually achieve those goals.   Adolescents with a sense of purpose are motivated individuals that are working towards something meaningful to them.  As a result, purpose driven adolescents are thinking about their future from a young age. This helps them overcome typical adolescent struggles and decreases the likelihood of participating in risky behaviors such as drug and alcohol use and violent behavior.  Because positive purpose helps adolescents overcome risk factors, it has been termed a ‘promotive factor.’

Establishing a positive purpose during adolescents can lead to better overall well-being, as these individuals exhibit more pro-social behavior, dedication to school and activities, and higher levels of self-esteem and achievement.  These individuals have less negative outcomes and are more likely to succeed.  Youth with a positive purpose mentality are also better equipped to handle failure, changes to plans, and difficulties along the way.  Youth who have developed a sense of purpose are able to get through everyday tasks with less difficulty than those without a positive purpose, since these individuals are able to recognize the relevance of completing what some may consider boring or useless tasks, to their future.  While purpose is something that must ultimately be developed individually, it has been linked to perceived teacher and school support.

Purpose development begins by determining what you are passionate about.  You must also identify which goals are most important to pursue and learn about options to pursuing them.  For adolescents, discussions with adults, teachers, or even peers can offer insight and bring new ideas to the table.  After goals have been identified, the individual must then have the dedication to pursue the goal.  A few ways that motivation can be fostered are through engagement in meaningful activities or by keeping a personal journal.  Finally, adolescents take action which helps them get closer to their goals.  Some potential ways to do this are by participating in activities that are connected with the goals that were set, interacting with school and community members, and by reflecting on activities, which helps connect them with the larger goal.

Promoting the development of purpose development within a positive youth development framework is a growing area of research.  Stay tuned for upcoming interventions that the Pathways4Youth Lab is conducting about purpose in the future!  


Do Alternative Methods to Incarceration Exist?

By Anne Scheps

As I get deeper and deeper into my literature review examining the community’s role in effective reintegration of juvenile offenders, I have also been gaining much more insight into the experience of incarceration as a whole. Questions have been coming to me that I am desperately (and futilely) trying to find answers to. If the prison system is not working, if we have such a high recidivism rate, what can we do to keep society safe and rehabilitate criminals so that they stay out of facilities? How do we create a supportive, caring environment for juvenile delinquents that fosters the values we want them to bring back to society? Can there be an alternative to incarceration? What would that even look like? Through my research, I’m finding that there are no clear-cut answers. Every article, researcher, news cast, has its own opinion on the best way to handle crime. Watching a recent TedTalk about the neurogenesis in incarcerated adults has spurred my desire to write this blog post because it brings up what I think is the most important point we all need to remember when it comes to the prison mass industrial complex: change is possible. As Daniel Riesel mentions in his talk entitled “The neuroscience in restorative justice”, neurogenesis is happening constantly within all of our brains. Cells are dying and re-generating, meaning that in lay-man terms, even psychopaths who have committed horrible, horrible crimes can reinvent themselves and learn a new path to morality. What if we could apply this to less serious offenses?

As most of my work deals with juvenile offenders, I have developed a passion for impacting the way the justice system approaches the youth involved with it. If Riesel suggests that adults are malleable, are not juveniles even more so? If I were in charge of reforming specific policies within juvenile justice, I would focus on giving the kids positive role models, stable resources, and a sense of hope for the future. With the current system, they are surrounded by other offenders who only exaggerate and exacerbate their criminal activity. The youth learn destructive habits and form relationships with other youth who will only lead them down a worse path. Can we change this?

E-cigarettes on the rise, especially for teens

By Michelle Silver

A few weeks ago over spring break in southern California I was struck by a friend of a friend smoking an electric cigarette.  His smoke session topic of discussion was what he should call his new business, an e-cigarette shop located in San Diego.  Just looking around the street we were standing on I saw a couple of these smoke-less smoke shops, a sight that was rather unfamiliar to me living in Ann Arbor.  However, e-cigarettes are on the rise, especially among adolescents. Between 2011-2012 e-cigarette usage among 6th-12th graders increased  from 3.3-6.8%, with the total number of students having ever tried an e-cigarette by 2012 topping  1.78 million (CDC).

The e-cigarette argument is a loaded one; on one hand e-cigarettes provide past smokers with a safer way to continue the motions of smoking and maintain the nicotine fix with what are thought to be many less harmful effects.  However, e-cigarettes are becoming widely available with much more lenient regulations.  As a result, they are ending up in the hands of many middle and high school students.  Many long-term cigarette smokers reported starting their cigarette habit when they were young, so will these teens become life-long e-cigarette smokers?

Regulations of e-cigarettes are virtually non-existent and variable by state.  There are no requirements about package information about what ingredients are used (including low levels of carcinogens which have been found), and age restrictions are often not enforced.   Despite controversies about who should be able to buy them, where they can smoke them, and information about the e-cigarette being made available to the consumer, most people would agree that harmless or not, youth should not be smoking them.

Perhaps more efforts should be put towards marketing these devices for serious cigarette addicts instead of teens.  Flavors like gummy bear and cookies and cream are a deliberate attempt to market towards kids and teens, which I don’t find acceptable.   Among teens in the CDC 2011-2012 study, 7.2% claimed to be non-cigarette smokers, but e-smokers.  More efforts need to be put forth to make sure these devices are marketed to the people who may truly benefit from them, instead of kids and teens. Additionally, since the effects of e-cigarette smoking are not entirely understood, more preventive efforts should be taken, especially with the lives of younger people in mind, before the potentially harmful effects are irreversible.

For more general information visit: or information on new Michigan legislation regulating e-cigarettes visit:

You’ve Got 24 Hours…Go

By Michelle Silver

Neknominate is the latest drinking game that’s sweeping social media.  The goal is to outdo the person who nominated you in a drinking related challenge and then continue the chain by nominating a few other friends.  Participants have somebody record themselves completing the challenge and post it to various social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube.  Challenges range from chugging a beer as quickly as possible to downing two pints of straight liquor.  By completing alcohol related challenges in under a minute or two, the effect the alcohol has on the individual is delayed and exacerbated since it hits them all at once.  Most commonly individuals experience severely impaired judgment and an inability to recognize and react to danger, only after consumption is completed.  The “game,” which began in Australia, has swept across the world and is now quite popular in the U.S.  Not surprisingly, Neknominate has turned deadly and already claimed the lives of five young men in the U.K.

The question then becomes who should be held responsible for the deaths of the Neknominate victims.  Is it the fault of the victims for completing the challenge, the people who nominated them, or does the blame fall more on social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube that allow the posting of these videos?  Should schools and parents be held accountable for the lack of resilience young people exercise these days with regards to peer pressure? This complex question unfortunately has no simple answer, which is part of the reason why the game is still taking place.

The game, which I initially thought was out of reach for graduate students like myself, has now become a frequent piece of “news” that pops up on my own Facebook timeline.   Challenges have spread to people that I know and the worrisome thought of what I would do if I was “neknominated” has crossed my mind, since I am certainly not a supporter of the deadly game.   Despite the threat of being bullied and tormented on various forms of social media for not completing the challenge, I think what I would personally do is not acknowledge the nomination and ignore it as much as possible.  I do realize that this might not be easy or possible for everybody, which is why other people have tried faking the challenge with water if they are under pressure to complete the nomination even though they don’t want to.

One thing is for certain, that social media has taught us how quickly information and movements like Neknominate can become viral and spread all around the world.  In response to the game, two Toronto teens have shifted the nomination drinking game into a charity campaign.   Instead of nominating somebody to compete in a drinking challenge, you nominate somebody to “#feedthedeed” by spreading awareness about a charity organization of your choice.  This is a great example of how to flip a negative and deadly game into something positive.  Hopefully more people will respond to Neknominate challenges with #feedthedeed instead of putting their own lives and others in danger.

For more about Neknominate visit: