Presenting Issues: Family Problems

December 30th 2018

Presenting Issues: Family Problems

Family problems have continuously been among the top reasons that young people seek support from Jigsaw.

Ecological Systems Theory

Jigsaw is a multi-level intervention organisation based on an ecological systems model. This recognises that we are all connected to the many levels of family, peers and societies that surround us as an individual. The developmental theorist Urie Bronfenbrenner conceptualised these levels as a series of ‘systems’ moving from the individual outward in the Ecological Systems Theory. He proposes one of the most prominent of these systems throughout a person’s life, particularly a young person’s life, is the family. This model is one of the most cited in psychology and mental health research and has guided a lot of work in the area.

Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory Model

Findings from My World Survey

In the My World Survey, the largest study of young people's mental health in Ireland, families were shown as one of the most important sources of support for a young person. In addition, two-thirds of respondents said that they enjoy their family life. One of the key findings from the My World Survey was the importance of a trusted adult to young people’s wellbeing. For half of young people in Ireland, their parent is their “one good adult”.

Figure 1: Young people who enjoy family life by school year

While family can be an important protective factor for young people’s mental health, the MWS also found that family status and structure and parental criticism were risk factors to a young person’s mental health.

Furthermore, the data from the study indicated young people’s enjoyment of family life reduced by age, with those in first year of secondary school more likely to say they enjoyed it. When participants were asked ‘what are the three most significant stressors in your life?’, family emerged as one of the biggest stressors.

It is clear from this study that while family is an important protective factor for young people’s mental health, family problems can also have a negative impact on young people.

Where young people are experiencing difficulties at home, they often turn to other sources for support. The My World Survey found that for many young people, their supportive adult was someone outside their home such as a teacher or a sports coach. If there are difficulties in the family home, the presence of another supportive adult is invaluable to a young person’s wellbeing.

Jigsaw recognises the importance of a supportive adult in a young person's life, whether that be a parent, coach, teacher, sibling or grandparent. That is why Jigsaw develops and delivers workshops such as One Good Coach and One Good Adult that are delivered in communitities and workplaces across Ireland to empower adults to support young people's mental health.  

This blog post is one of a series on the presenting issues that our young people face when coming to Jigsaw.

This blog post was influenced by the following research:

Readings on Ecological Systems Theory by Urie Bronfenbrenner

Bronfenbrenner, Urie. The Ecology of Human Development: Experiments by Nature and Design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1979. ISBN: 9780674224575.

Bronfenbrenner, Urie. (1992). Ecological systems theory. In R. Vasta (Ed.), 

Six theories of child development: Revised formulations and current issues (187-249). London, England: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. ISBN-10: 9781853021374.