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Research Journal

The “Ruperto Carola” research magazine reports on scientific findings and current research projects at Heidel­berg University. Every issue is dedicated to a socially relevant topic.

The magazine is available in the Communications and Marketing department of Heidelberg University (Alte Universität, Grabengasse 1).

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Flight Into An Illusory World. Adolescent Risk Behaviour

Franz Resch and Michael Kaess

RuCa 11/2017

Photo: © Getty Images / Moment Select / Nika Fadul

Adolescence involves a variety of developmental tasks that help young individuals find their place in society. The child enters a phase that offers extended opportunities to reflect on identity, on the validity of the feeling: “I am me”. This feeling of identity needs permanent confirmation through self-reflection and the reactions of others to whom the individual is close.

While five out of six adolescents cope well with the developmental process of adolescence, some fail to start the societal process of acceptance. They face problems in their identity development, self-worth regulation and acquisition of social roles. In these cases, risk-taking and self-harming behaviours such as self-injury or excessive media use can endanger the adolescents’ development. The era of the Internet seems to support the use and spread of such behaviours as so-called “illusory” solutions.

Self-injury can be identity forming, and, paradoxically, may be an expression of self-care. It is an attempt to tolerate the perceived distortions of the real world. The flight into self-injury or excessive media use is a real flight that can only be altered by a therapeutic and acceptance-based attitude and not by reactionary rigour.

Heidelberg has been hosting the pioneering outpatient clinic for “Adolescent Risk-taking and Self-harm” (AtR!Sk) since 2013. AtR!Sk offers ready support to adolescents exhibiting risk-taking and self-harming behaviour, and to their caregivers. Adolescents are motivated to actively cope with their problems and to question their “illusory” solutions to relationship issues and other difficulties.

The Internet is not per se an illusory world. A substantial part of an adolescent’s life takes place in virtual social places. We need to guide and help young people in the virtual world to enable them to better distinguish between reality and illusion.

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In all spheres and dimensions of life, we are faced with the challenge of having to distinguish between reality and appearance, between fact, error and lie. One of science’s fundamental tasks is to get to the bottom of things, to sift through an abundance of apparent options in order to separate facts and verified knowledge from untruths and falsehoods. Despite the dichotomy between reality and appearance, the latter need not always carry negative connotations – in its most basic sense, it simply means “outward aspect”. The German equivalent “Schein” has an even greater range of definitions, from illusion and deception to visibility, splendour and brilliance. These are a few of the many different facets that 21 of the University’s researchers explore in the current edition of the research journal, entitled APPEARANCE & REALITY.

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Latest Revision: 2017-12-21
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