The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Possible Selves and Risk Behavior Among Adolescents in Conflict with the Law in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

Sunday, January 20, 2013: 9:15 AM
Marina 2 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Kathryne B. Brewer, MSW, Doctoral Student, Columbia University, New York, NY
Michael J. MacKenzie, PhD, Assistant Professor, Columbia University, New York, NY
Robin E. Gearing, PhD, Associate Professor, Columbia University, New York, NY
Craig S. Schwalbe, PhD, Associate Professor, Columbia University, New York, NY
Rawan W. Ibrahim, PhD, Project Coordinator, Columbia University, Amman, Jordan
Background: Possible selves describe a personalized future-oriented form of self-concept that is linked to ideas about who we believe we can be (expected selves) and who we are afraid of becoming (feared selves). Research finds that individuals who possess clear ideas and goals about what they desire to do, be, or be like in the future are more likely to put forth the effort necessary to actualizing these possible selves. However, little is known about possible selves among Arab adolescents in the Middle East, particularly those residing in institutional settings. The current study has two key objectives: (1) to describe the possible selves and strategies for achieving those selves of Jordanian youths residing in juvenile detention centers (JDCs); and (2) to explore the relationship between possible selves, risk behaviors, and internalizing/externalizing problems.

Methods: The study uses survey and case file data from interviews conducted with 187 adolescent boys residing in JDCs across Jordan as part of the Community-Family Integration Teams Project (C-FIT) Screening Study. Possible selves were assessed using standardized questionnaire asking youths to describe their expected and feared possible selves as well as strategies to achieve or avoid the future self. Content analysis and bivariate tests of association were used to describe the possible selves and their associations with behavioral and emotional problems.

Results: Ninety-percent of youths report having an expected self, primarily related to achievement-related goals (e.g., getting a job). Slightly less (87%) youths reported at least one feared self, with a majority of these related to non-normative behaviors (e.g., getting in trouble). Most future selves had a strategy attached to them. About 60% of feared strategies qualified as relevant and effective discrete tasks; whereas among the expected selves strategies, 60% were relevant to attaining the future self, 52% qualified as effective, and only 45% were discrete tasks. Sixty-percent of both expected and feared strategies were self-regulated, with the youth taking a central active role in the planned approach to achieving the future self. Experiencing physical abuse was significantly associated with reporting fewer strategies and with strategies of poorer quality than youths without a report of physical abuse. Statistically significant differences in the presence of feared selves and their related-strategies were found with regard to discouragement about the future, suicidal ideation, symptoms of affective disorder, aggressive behavior, and conduct problems.

Conclusions:  Findings suggest that Jordanian youths in detention have a clearer vision of how to avoid becoming their feared future selves than of how to realize their expected selves. Additionally, youths lacking clear self-regulated strategies for avoiding their feared selves show higher levels of suicidal ideation, as well as affective disorders and conduct problems. In contrast, the presence of achievement-related future selves may serve as a protective factor against externalizing behavioral problems. A growing body of international research highlights the risks associated with institutionalized responses to youth in conflict with the law. Findings underscore the need to help detained youth consider their future possibilities and to increase skills in developing effective and self-regulated strategies for reaching these goals.