It comes with rights and obligations, which serve to strengthen each member of that whānau or group. Where manaakitanga directs greater attention to the responsibility to care and nurture, whanaungatangarepresents relationships with those who are considered whānau. This includes people who may not be connected through direct whakapapa lineages but who feel like kin because of their shared experiences (Ware, 2009; Ware & Walsh-Tapiata, 2010). Whanaungatanga clearly links to YDSA principle 4 on “quality relationships”but equally to YDSA principle 2 about “being connected” because it reflects a young person’s need to belong and be part of a collective. Research included in this section focuses on family, peer, school, and community contexts, and relationships within these realms. We also incorporate research on outcomes arising from engagement and participation in community thus some of this content links to the YDSA principle 5 of “youth participation”.

Whanaungatanga as the Weaving Thread of Youth Development

The theme that most consistently weaves across all models of youth development and features most prominently in youth development programmes is that of relationships and connection. Whānau (close kin), whanaungatanga (intergenerational relationships), and whakawhanaungatanga (relationship building) provide the foundation for growth, not only in the context of Māori youth development practice (Keelan, 2014; Te Ora Hou, 2011; Ware, 2009) but in teaching (Bishop, Berryman, Cavanaugh & Teddy, 2009) and health and human development more broadly (Anae et al., 2002). The traditions of pūkengatanga and tuakana-teina described earlier, illustrate the value placed on close relationships between young people and more experienced guides in Māori culture. And this is not unique to Māori culture.

Pasifika models of wellbeing and development, like the Fonofale, are relational and we have already mentioned the significance of the “Va” (the space between that both separates and connects) to Samoan culture (Anae et al., 2002). Connection to family, church and education provided the platform for effective Pasifika youth development in the Auckland Pacific Youth Development Strategy (2005). Belonging, support, and connection are also building blocks in international youth development models like the Circle of Courage, the 5C’s of PYD and the 40 Developmental Assets (Farruggia & Bullen, 2010; Wayne Francis Charitable Trust – Youth Advisory Group, 2011). Not surprisingly, many youth development programmes explicitly seek to improve young people’s established relationships and connections or facilitate new ones and many report succeeding in doing so (Arahanga-Doyle et al., 2018; Chand, Farruggia, Dittman, Chu, & Sanders, 2013; Chapman et al., 2017; Deane et al., 2015; Deane & Harre, 2014; Howell, 2012; MacDonald et al., 2015; Price, 2015). Connections within and across family, school, peer and community contexts are acknowledged to be “where youth development happens” (MYA, 2002) so we summarise Aotearoa New Zealand research focused on these spheres next.

Family and Whānau

Family has a significant and enduring effect on young people. Respondents to the Youth’12 survey (Clark et al., 2013) demonstrated that most young people got along with their family (72%), felt their family members got along well with one another (81%), and had fun with their family (69%). Most young people also reported feeling close to their parent/s and that their parent/s care about them. When it comes to spending time with parents, respondents had less time with their fathers than mothers. Time with mothers was compromised by her being busy with other commitments: work, household duties, and other children or family members. For fathers, young people reported barriers such as work, other family members, and living separately. Most of these trends have been fairly static since the first Youth 2000 survey in 2001, although fewer girls are satisfied with how much time they spend with their parent/s.

Research on family as a context has explored ideas such as family connectedness, the role of extended family, family structure and organisation, and the interface between home and other contexts, such as school and community. Qualitative research is often used with youth participants, asking what influence they think family has had on their development. For instance, Pākehā youth interviewed by McCreanor and colleagues (2006) talked about the importance of their family environment. Family support was especially valued, including clear and negotiated boundaries for their behaviour. Notably, family support was not limited to parents: siblings, grandparents, and other extended family (such as cousins) were also actively engaged with and appreciated by young people.

The quality of family relationships is a protective factor for taiohi Māori, regardless of the structure of the whānau (e.g., sole parent or other non-nuclear family arrangements; Stuart & Jose, 2014). For Māori and Pākehā young people, mothers are particularly important. In one study, taiohi Māori described their mothers as being in charge of caring, comfort, and warmth, and acknowledged the sacrifices mothers made to raise them (Edwards et al., 2007). These taiohi also described the contrast between parents: mothers were strong and provided aroha, while paternal relationships were challenging due to the absence and stress driven by economic scarcity (Edwards et al., 2007). Similar findings emerged in a study with Pākehā young people: while most reported having quality relationships with their parents, mothers were always rated higher on specific aspects of the relationship (e.g., feeling close to mum/dad, spending time with mum/dad; McCreanor et al., 2006). In both studies (Edwards et al., 2007; McCreanor et al., 2006) youth discussed their relationships with siblings and extended family, such as grandparents and cousins.

Parenting adolescents comes with its own complexities and rewards. While families can be sources of support and aroha for youth, there are challenges too. Family conflicts occur around both the lack of boundaries and boundaries that are restrictive and stifling for young people (McCreanor et al., 2006). A review of a parenting intervention aimed at parents and their adolescent children was shown to be effective for increasing both parental (e.g., school involvement and positive communication techniques) and adolescent behaviours (e.g., decision-making and caring for others) which contribute to positive youth development (Chand et al., 2013).

Research on family connectedness for Māori youth emphasises the role of extended family, as whānau by definition, encompasses both nuclear and extended family (Edwards et al., 2007; Stuart & Jose, 2014). Merritt (2003) found extended family – especially older women like aunties or grandmothers – provided the love and support young Māori girls needed as they moved through adolescence. Edwards and colleagues (2007) also highlighted the importance of grandparents and aunties/uncles for taiohi Māori, as it is not unusual for young people to live with extended whānau at various times in their life, either with or without their parents.

Several studies have explored the effect of family on youth wellbeing using quantitative measures. In one study with taiohi Māori, family connectedness protected against normative decreases in wellbeing during middle adolescence (Stuart & Jose, 2014). In other words, even though adolescents typically experience some reduction in wellbeing during their teen years, for taiohi Māori, family connectedness acted as a buffer against this trend. Whānau connectedness was used in a recent study as part of a broader concept of cultural embeddedness, which was shown to indirectly predict youth wellbeing through an improvement in the use of solution- focused strategies when young people are facing difficult situations (Fox, Neha, & Jose, 2018).

For Pasifika young people, family are also fundamental to their wellbeing and development as a source of support and high expectations, particularly in education (Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, 2005). Fa’alau (2011) explored the connection between Samoan youth wellbeing and three dimensions of family: family structure (size and composition), family organisation (e.g., routines, decision-making, family activities), and family relationships. In describing family as a protective factor, Fa’alau emphasises the characteristics of mutual understanding, respect, trust, and support. When these are lacking, the wellbeing of Samoan young people suffers.

Of course, families do not exist in isolation from other individuals or institutions in the lives of their young people. The interaction of family and other potential sources of connectedness can also influence how young people develop. For example, one study explored home-school dissonance: when the cultures of home and school are inconsistent with each other (Jose, Rata, & Richards, 2017). Taiohi Māori were more likely than Pākehā young people to experience this dissonance, which predicted lower connectedness with home and school, as well as predicting various negative outcomes (e.g., lack of autonomy, negative affect, lower self-confidence) for Māori and Pākehā students. The researchers suggest schools should be encouraged to improve the congruence between school and home cultures for marginalised students. Another study showed most young people (90%) feel supported by their parents and whānau in their schoolwork, especially boys and Pākehā students (Ministry of Education, 2017). However, young people who did not have parental support when they were having difficulties at school were more likely to be bullied regularly.


The Youth’12 survey (Clark et al., 2013) collected data about how young people feel about school. School connectedness was measured by four questions asking if: students feel like part of their school, they like being at school, people at school care for them, and teachers are fair. A vast majority of students feel like they belong at school (87%), and like school a lot (29%) or think it is okay (61%). When asked about their relationships at school, only 27% think the adults at school care about them, while half think teachers are fair to students most of the time. Both of these measures have increased since 2001: from 23% for the former, and from 43% for the latter. In contrast, PISA data shows the sense of belonging at school has decreased since 2003 (Ministry of Education, 2017). One measure – feeling like an outsider or left out of things – increased from 8% in 2003 to 22% in 2015.

A survey undertaken with over 1500 young people by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (2018) reiterated the importance of the teacher-student relationship. Participants emphasised how knowing a teacher believes in them makes a difference in their motivation and achievement. Having quality relationships with teachers is especially important for high-risk young people in schools (Sanders, Munford, & Liebenberg, 2016). These relationships bolster the resilience of young people, which in turn contributes to desirable outcomes such as positive peer relationships, being pro-social, and satisfied with life (Sanders, Munford, & Liebenberg, 2016).

A report from Rodney Economic Development Trust (2008) examining why so many young people in the area leave school without formal qualifications highlighted the impact of low quality relationships between teachers and students. More than 100 young people in the area took part, and 81% said they felt their teachers wanted them ‘gone’ from school. Many participants felt like their teachers did not know or care about them. Young people appreciated teachers – who were often younger – that understood where they were coming from and that there were other issues happening in their lives. They also liked teachers who were encouraging and rewarded effort, not just outcomes.

The Youth 2000 series investigated the relationship between secondary school and health outcomes for youth. Their findings include an association between supportive school environments and reduced depression and suicidality for male sexual minority students (Denny et al., 2016); positive school climate was associated with less problem alcohol use and risky motor vehicle behaviour (Denny et al., 2011); and the provision of school-based health services (such as nursing and doctors hours) was associated with better mental health for students, including lower levels of depression and suicidality (Denny et al., 2018). Schools are also important sites for service and leadership opportunities especially for young people living in low socioeconomic conditions. School-based programmes remove some of the access barriers to these important developmental experiences (Deane, Moore et al., 2017).

Important research has also investigated the wellbeing of young people who are excluded from mainstream education. One study exploring the health needs of – in alternative education found significant and concerning health issues and engagement in risky behaviours (Clark et al., 2010). Noel et al. (2013) reinforced this finding by demonstrating that young people in Alternative Education are ten times more likely to experience emotional distress coupled with engagement in high risk behaviours relative to secondary school students. Other studies conducted with vulnerable young people, most of whom were disengaged from mainstream school in some way, found they struggled to create a positive identity for themselves as a student (Sanders & Munford, 2016). However, youth reports of having adult support within the school – from teachers or counsellors for example – is associated with belonging and resilience (Sanders & Munford, 2016), as well as experiencing schools as helpful and positive spaces (Sanders, Munford, & Liebenberg, 2016). Experiencing school as a positive place also helps vulnerable young people stay in mainstream education (Sanders, Munford, & Thimarsarn-Anwar, 2015).


For some young people, friends are as important as family (Kerekere, 2017a; Ware & Walsh-Tapiata, 2010). Relationships with friends were consistently rated highly by young people who participated in the Youth’12 survey (Clark et al., 2013). Young people almost always have fun when they are with their friends (99%), and friends also provide important emotional support: 91% reported having at least one friend they can talk to about almost anything, while 97% had friends who helped and looked out for them. This is an encouraging sign, since good peer relationships are typically associated with positive development in adolescence (Farruggia & Bullen, 2010). One study conducted with vulnerable young people found positive peer relations contributed to improved attendance at school (Sanders, Munford, & Thimarsarn-Anwar, 2015), a finding echoed by a survey of over 1500 young people which found having friends at school was a major motivator for attending school regularly (Office of the Children’s Commissioner, 2018). Similarly, youth in one study who left school prematurely indicated the main reason they stayed at school as long as they did was to be with their friends (Rodney Economic Development Trust, 2008).

However, research has also investigated some of the challenges and negative effects associated with peer relationships. In one study, researchers have found some at-risk youth reduce their interactions with antisocial peers to avoid associated risks, such as being exposed to gangs (Sanders, Munford, Liebenberg, & Ungar, 2017). However, this strategy can result in isolation if other relationships, including those with caring adults, are not present to mitigate boredom, loneliness, and mental health problems such as depression.


Most young people like the neighbourhood they live in and trust the people in their community (Clark et al., 2013). Almost half of secondary school students are also active in their community, including sports (45%) and church groups (23%), while over a quarter of reported helping someone in their community in the past 12 months (Clark et al., 2013).

For many young people, church is an integral part of life and their community. Youth ’12 found that 26% of young people went to church, mosque, or temple at least once a week. Almost one third of respondents said they felt like they belonged at church, and this was proportionately higher for youth in high deprivation neighbourhoods. The centrality of church is especially important for Pasifika young people (Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, 2005). Church is not only a place for spirituality, but also for social life and identity development. Church-based youth activities and youth groups can give young Pasifika people opportunities to develop leadership skills and connect to adult role models as well (Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, 2005).

Communities offer a physical place for young people to feel connected to (Funaki, 2017). There is a relational component in spaces where young people can gather and meet with peers and important adults. However, the physical representation of the value of young people to a community – through structured, dedicated spaces for youth, for instance – is important to facilitating belongingness and connection (Funaki, 2017).

One innovative project examining youth and community (Jensen et al., 2006) utilised photovoice: a method in which participants take photos to capture and illustrate what is important to them. Two groups of young people in South Auckland explored their community, including spaces and opportunities for youth development. Young people highlighted the places they valued (parks, recreation centres, and churches), concerns for their community (e.g., gangs, graffiti, housing, and the pervasiveness of liquor and fast food outlets), as well as solutions (more social workers and facilities for youth). They also demonstrated an acute awareness of how ‘outsiders’ see their community negatively, but remain connected to and proud of where they come from: “People say heaps of stuff about Mangere … but to us, it’s just home”. This echoes other research with South Auckland youth who reinforce the pride they have in their community (Borell, 2005; Nakhid et al., 2009), as well as cognisance of the strengths and challenges their community faces (Nakhid et al., 2009).

Simcock (2016) interviewed young people in Te Aroha and Otorohanga to explore the relationship between rural young people and their community. Participants described a sense of collectiveness from participating in social events in the community, through which they could develop social capital and, potentially, improve wellbeing. Community also played an important part in the success of young people from Opotiki, as it was a place for them to feel grounded and supported, with the community nurturing their potential (Williams, 2016).

Connection to community can be fostered through participating in community-based activities and programmes. Community-based activities are common in Aotearoa New Zealand and include a variety of extracurricular activities – such as sports, arts, and cultural activities – located in communities, rather than schools (O’Connor & Jose, 2012). O’Connor (2011) found young people who participated in such activities felt more connected to their community and school, and also reported better adjustment on several outcomes (wellbeing, social support, and life satisfaction; see also O’Connor & Jose, 2012). The social benefits of participating can vary by ethnicity. In O’Connor and Jose’s (2012) study, participation predicted higher social support and community connectedness for Māori, while for Pākehā, participation predicted higher wellbeing. However, young people who identified as both Māori and Pākehā saw no benefits at all from participating in community-based activities. O’Connor (2011) found benefits were particularly strong for young people in sports, boys in arts or community activities, and young Māori who participated in a combination of arts, community, and sports activities. Other research supporting the link between various forms of sports participation and youth development include work by Heke (2005), Hodge, Danish, & Martin (2012), Gordon (2015) and Wheaton, Roy and Olive (2017).