Turning points are life experiences that permanently change the course of one’s life. The death of a parent, a divorce, or even a geographical move are all examples of turning points that can have a positive or negative affect on an individual. “The most defining characteristic of a turning point, however, remains that the event is perceived as significant or life-changing to the individual,” said Royette Tavernier of the Department of Psychology at Brock University, St. Catharines in Canada, and author of a recent study. How individuals process those turning points is referred to as meaning-making and is theorized to affect well-being. “The purpose of this study was to examine whether meaning-making within turning point narratives, as well as the timing of these turning points, would be associated with psychological wellbeing among a sample of Grade 12 high school adolescents,” said Tavernier.
For their study, Tavernier and a team of colleagues analyzed the life stories of 418 12th grade students, half of whom had experienced a significant turning point in their lives. All of the students had been previously assessed for well-being while in the 9th grade, as part of another ongoing study. Tavernier discovered that although the earlier assessment of well-being did not influence meaning-making in 12th grade, those who described meaning-making as part of their turning point narrative had much higher levels of well-being than the students who did not describe using meaning-making strategies in their life stories.
“This important finding suggests that the significant positive association between meaning-making and psychological well-being was not necessarily a function of preexisting differences on this variable, prior to adolescents’ turning point experiences but instead may be related to the meaning-making process.” Tavernier added, “In conclusion, adolescents, counselors, parents, and other sources of support can benefit from the knowledge that navigating life’s unpredictable paths is not necessarily solely associated with negative affect. Although much more research in this area is needed, these findings provide some support for the possibility that when adolescents engage in a more intimate exploration of their life experiences—particularly those that cause significant change—positive consequences can emerge at the personal and relational level.”
Tavernier, R., & Willoughby, T. (2011, November 28). Adolescent Turning Points: The Association Between Meaning-Making and Psychological Well-Being. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026326
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