“Belief systems imbue life (and death) with meaning and can sustain adaptive behaviour in the face of great adversity” (Masten, 2009, p30). A young person’s beliefs are formed through the interpretation of experiences as they occur and are incorporated into the stories they tell about themselves and their world. Stories consist of dominant plots or themes that link events in sequence and across time (Ungar, 2005).
Young people’s beliefs can also be shaped by broader social discourses (Ungar, 2005) and by both cultural and religious systems of belief (Masten, 2009). Even so, young people are capable of generating and sustaining ideas independent of more organised belief systems.
Self-beliefs are formed through subjective appraisals of oneself and one’s life circumstances. Young people will hold a range of core self-beliefs that strongly influence the way they interpret and respond to events. Many are below the level of awareness.
Self-esteem and self-efficacy can be understood as closely interconnected self-beliefs that strong influence on one’s approach to new opportunities and experiences. For example, self-esteem can dictate the extent to which a young person feels worthy of investing in self-care and personal growth. Likewise, self-efficacy is based on a young person’s appraisal of their own skills and effectiveness in relation to specific tasks. Low self-efficacy can mean a young person becomes unwilling to take on new experiences for fear of failure.
Young people’s beliefs also influence a person’s outlook and attitudes. A young person might, for example, be aware of several resources and assets in their social ecology that are available and that could be beneficial, but based on past experience might not believe that they are accessible in ways that have meaning and relevance. Young people’s interests and commitments, as well as their values, are also crucial in shaping their motivation for self-care and constructive development.
Further, young people’s sense of security, purpose, belonging and hope all profoundly influence, and are influenced by, their experience as they develop and consider their future. These influences are grouped as assets under the heading ‘meaning making’.
Together, all resources and assets associated with systems of belief strongly influence a young person’s identity and motivation.