Positive functioning and healthy development for young people is strongly associated with engagement in structured, pro-social activities (Bartko & Eccles, 2003).
Constructive activity, be it schooling, work or recreational pursuits, can counteract ‘boredom’ but can also be a vehicle for the “…development and demonstration of new competencies, problem solving, helpfulness and other positive attributes associated with resilience” (Ungar, Dumond, & MacDonald, 2005).
Engagement in constructive activity over time promotes social inclusion and economic participation. It is a means by which a young person might come to be treated as a person of value; “…a capable person who can contribute in the life of the community” (Ungar, 2006; p57). Youth AOD clients who engage in such action can challenge negative social discourses characterising them as either “delinquent, disordered, dangerous or deviant” (Ungar, 2005) and forge a new identity.
The adoption of problematic substance use patterns by young people can also be linked with a lack of opportunities for recreation and participation in activity that is socially integrative (Bonomo, 2003). Young people participating in a major Melbourne based study into youth homelessness “… stressed how all other dominating activities fell by the wayside as drug taking or getting money for drugs became their prime activities” (Keys et al., 2006, p74).
Disconnection from social institutions such as schools, workplaces and sporting clubs means missing crucial development experiences and opportunities to develop new social connections and networks. Premature exclusion from school is strongly associated with the development of substance use problems and involvement in the criminal justice system. (Prichard & Payne, 2005).
Catalano and Hawkins (1996) identify that such social development requires a child or young person first to perceive opportunities for pro-social interaction. Pro-social activity then provides an opportunity for a young person to make healthy bonds with significant others who are in a position to positively reward their participation. This offers a young person the chance to test their capacities and demonstrate qualities that may have been previously unrecognised.
Resilience based intervention involves motivating and enabling young people to either initiate or maintain participation in constructive activity that is varying degrees satisfying, rewarding and socially valued. In most cases, problematic substance use is incompatible with participation in constructive activity. Young people who feel strongly attached to one or more constructive activity have a reason not to let substance use become so problematic if it restricts their involvement.
Over time, continued participation can promote the development of emotional, cognitive and behavioural skills that allow the young person to continue earning and experiencing positive reinforcement (Catalano & Hawkins, 1996). Heightened expectations often result as others with significance in the lives of young people recognise such learning and growth. This has been shown to increase motivation for further participation in pro-social action and encourage young people to envision and work towards a better future (Aronowitz, 2005).