A (re)visit from Norway: longitudinal approaches to youth transitions



On 18th May CIRCY hosted a seminar on Qualitative Longitudinal Research with youth people and their families involving colleagues from Oslo and Akershus University College, The Open University, Goldsmiths College and the University of Sussex. At the seminar Marie Helgeland, presented findings from a 30 year longitundinal study of ‘troubled youths’ in Norway and her colleague May-Britt Solem shared analyses from her doctoral thesis (Parenting Stress and Coping Practices. A Salutogenic Approach, 2011), and asked for advice on a planned follow up study.

In her doctoral study May-Britt explored parents’ narratives of everyday life, with a focus on the relationship between parenting stress, resources, coping strategies and social support. The study involved 64 parents with sons aged 6-12 who were having behavioural problems, as well as a comparison group of 128 parents with sons having less or no behaviour problems. In the planned follow up study, May-Britt will return to her participants who are now parents of 20-year old sons and conduct interviews with both parents and young adults. In doing so May-Britt wants to explore how the ‘sons’ from her original study – many of whom have the diagnosis of ADHD – have experienced the transition to adulthood. Do they position themselves as independent? How do they construct their transitions? How do they make meaning of difficult phases in life, and what does the future look like to them?

At the seminar colleagues were able to draw on their experience of conducting QLR and researching ADHD to make suggestions about how to manage the ethical challenges of researching this sensitive topic and how to theorise the transitions and meanings that May-Britt may uncover.

In her presentation Ingeborg shared findings from the fourth wave of a 30-year study of young people who were clients of Norwegian child welfare services in the early 1980s. At that time, these youngsters (N=85) exhibited serious behavior problems and were designated as “most difficult youths” by child protection authorities in an average-sized county in Norway. They came from homes with high levels of family conflict and were truant from school for long periods. They abused drugs of various kinds and engaged in criminal activities. Over the course of the project they were interviewed at the ages of 15, 20 and 30 years (Helgeland, 1989, 2007, 2010). Speaking at the seminar a few weeks ago, Ingeborg shared findings from the most recent follow up with participants now aged 40-45 years. Key findings from the third and fourth wave of the study, along with a list of relevant publications can be downloaded here.

Ingeborg’s presentation was sobering – she told us that one fourth of the original 85 participants had died by aged 40-45. The majority however live so called ‘ordinary’ middle aged lives, without the problems o alcohol, drugs and criminality that many of them experienced in their youth. Narratives of parenthood showed the importance of doing fatherhood and motherhood in an accepted and positive way (Herland, Hauge and Helgeland 2014). Though the results show great variation, for many, children have become participants’ life-project. They want – Ingeborg told  us – to try to give their children better opportunities than they experienced in their own childhood, although some struggle with being ‘good enough’ parents, referring to their own vulnerable childhoods and the contact with the child protection services as children and young people.

To read more about Ingeborg and May-Britt’s research you can browse the list of publications below. We finish with some reflections from our Norweigan colleagues:

The first time we met Professor Rachel Thomson, a leader in Qualitative Longitudinal Research, was in June 2012. We had invited her as a keynote speaker at a seminar we arranged about QLR at Oslo and Akershus University College. We were greatly inspired by her innovating thoughts on methodology, and took the opportunity to speak with her about future cooperation and the possibility of involving her in our projects.

In April 2014, we got in touch with Rachel again about the possibility of arranging a meeting to discuss methodology and design for the follow up project we are outlining.  Rachel was very positive, and invited us over to the UK and arranged a seminar with her colleagues and us at Sussex University. She gave us the opportunity to present our studies: 1) “Children, young people and parents. A longitudinal study of mental health and child development in contemporary society”, and 2)“Troubled youths – their life course pathways into young adulthood and middle age. A 30 year longitudinal study”. 

The discussion at the seminar was very inspiring for us. We were met with interesting questions and useful advice concerning our data, methodologies and the concepts we have used. We also received a great many useful references that we are thankful of today. We hope that our colleagues at the seminar also found the dialog inspiring, and we wish for continuous conversation and future cooperation regarding analyzing data material across both nations and projects. In May next year we will arrange a follow up seminar about QLR, and look forward seeing you all there! We are very thankful to Rachel who looked after us so well, and kindly organized the seminar, and to the other friendly participants taking the time to give us new and inspiring ideas. We enjoyed meeting you all and hope to see you again soon!



Herland, Mari D, Hauge, Mona-Iren and Ingeborg M Helgeland. 2014. Balancing fatherhood: Experiences of fatherhood among men with a difficult past. Qualitative Social Work. http://qsw.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/03/28/1473325014528737?papetoc

Helgeland, Ingeborg Marie. 2010. What works? A 15-year follow-up study of 85 young people with serious behavioral problems. Children and youth services reciew. 32/3 423-429. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0190740909002989

Helgeland, Ingeborg Marie. 2015. “Catch 22” – Ethical Dilemmas in Interviewing Marginalized Groups. Qualitative Inquiry. Sage. London, 11/4, 549-569. http://qix.sagepub.com/content/11/4/549.short

Helgeland, Ingeborg Marie. 2011. Youths with serious behavior problems – participation and protection in child welfare services.Sociological Studies of Children and Youth (SSCY), Volume 14.

Solem, May-Britt (2013). Understanding Parenting as Situated in the larger Sociocultural Context in Clinical Social Work. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 30, 61-78.

Solem, May-Britt (2013). Meaning making and avoidance in parenting. Qualitative Social Work, 12 170-185.

Solem, May-Britt, Christophersen, Knut-Andreas & Martinussen, Monica (2011). Predicting Parenting Stress: Children’s Behavioural Problems and Parents’ Coping. Infant and Child Development, Vol. 20, 162-180.

Solem, May-Britt, Christophersen, Knut Andreas & Wels, Paul (2010). A Norwegian validity study of parenting stress measured by the Nijmegen Child-Rearing Situation Questionnaire section one. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences, 24, 183-193.












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