March 18, 2002 – Researchers at the University of the Virgin Islands are probing the roots of the territory's multicultural society for answers to why teen-agers get involved in risky behavior — and what might deter them from doing so.
At a St. Thomas program on sexual abstinence on Saturday, community concern was evident for youngsters who get caught up in crime and drug abuse, who drop out of school, and who get pregnant or infected with a sexually transmitted disease or cause others to do so.
Members of the UVI research team who were there said they saw the occasion, Sen. Lorraine Berry's 8th annual Youth Symposium, as a recruitment opportunity to involve more youths, as well as adults, in their study. "It's been really hard to get people to participate, especially fathers," project manager Nyasha Muthunu said.
Through focus groups that are meeting on the St. Thomas UVI campus, the study seeks to find out if different cultural influences from Eastern Caribbean and traditional Virgin Islands homes produce different kinds of behavior in children as they face adulthood.
In focus groups, a small number of subjects typically share their views on topics in a guided setting that encourages feedback and interaction. Through group dynamics that are absent in one-on-one interviews or questionnaires, researchers seek insights into not only what the subjects know or think but also how they feel. For example, in the UVI project, "We try to find out from the adolescents what are their perceptions of risky behavior," Agatha Nelson, principal researcher, said.
Nelson, an assistant professor of psychology and social sciences at UVI, wants to determine whether the child-rearing practices of parents from different cultural backgrounds produce children who share their values. She also wants to learn from parents what they think is the best way to raise kids — and to find out how well they know what their teens would and would not do.
So far, the study has recruited enough subjects to conduct six focus groups — separate sessions for boys ages 13-16, girls in the same age range, and mothers of youngsters of those ages. Once a group gets going and the subjects are assured that their responses will be kept confidential, Nelson said, the comments flow freely. What's been hard, she said, is getting people to sign up in the first place, even though there are incentives.
Each focus group meets just once. Youngsters are paid $10 for answering a series of survey questions posed in the group. Parents receive $20 for taking part.
The UVI researchers who set out a sign-up sheet at the Saturday symposium found some interest among the roughly 800 young people attending. "We got about 40 or 50 kids who said they are interested," Nelson said. "Now, we have to call the homes and see if the parents will consent."
At the symposium, they also managed to sign up that most elusive subject, a father.
The UVI study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is expected to be completed this summer. The research findings will be made available to social scientists seeking to determine what would make V.I. young people healthier, safer and more successful as they approach adulthood.
Anyone interested in taking part in a focus group can obtain further information by calling Nelson at 693-1278 or e-mailing to project research assistants Nyasha Mutunhu or Tamisha Ottley.
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