Understanding needs and wants in context : the lived experiences of adolescents from low income households in Newlands West, Durban.
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The starkly contrasting socio-economic classes embedded in South African communities imply that whilst some can be considered good consumers others will be excluded. As a result, pressures mount on adolescents to consume-not only to fit in with peer groups, but also to establish their identities. The environment informs adolescents on how they should shape their identities, values, goals and inconspicuously, their needs and wants. This interrelationship between the adolescent and the environment was demonstrated throughout the study. The main purpose of this study was to understand the lived experiences of adolescents from low-income households in Newlands West, Durban. The study was designed as a qualitative, descriptive study. The sample consisted of twenty adolescents, twelve female and eight male participants aged sixteen to eighteen years. Of the twenty participants, six were involved in recreational activities. All participants were living in what is categorised as lowincome households in Newlands West. In order to access this sample, I applied a combination of purposive and snowball sampling techniques, and data was collected using focus group and semi-structured individual interviews. The data analysis was conducted through thematic content analysis and guided by the ecosystems theory which provided the study’s interpretive framework. The study followed the University of KZN’s ethical standards, and care was taken to adhere to the principles of autonomy and respect for the dignity of persons, beneficence, non-maleficence, and justice. For trustworthiness, I took into account the criteria of credibility, dependability, confirmability and transferability. Five main themes emerged from the data analysis namely; socio cultural factors affecting participant’s needs and wants; home circumstances; the demands of society; the inability to participate in consumption activities: responses of adolescents; and the blurred boundaries between needs and wants in the lives of research participants. The study’s findings point to the difficulties facing any society in the face of powerful global economic and cultural forces, with consumer values having been internalised by adolescents regardless of socio-economic status. The pressure to be good consumers led participants to engage in behaviours that were both socially acceptable and in behaviours that were harmful to themselves and others, and attracted moral judgement. Moreover, due to a lack of meso level activities v research participants were exposed to negative influences of the social environment. As a result of a manipulative consumer culture that emphasises consumption activities for self expression, the majority of participants in this study experienced the distinction between needs and wants as blurred. Framed by the ecosystems theory, this study demonstrated the nature of relationships between participants and their environment, including their peer groups, the role of the community activities, employment of caregivers, the cultures found in society, and the influences of processes such as globalisation. On the basis of these findings recommendations were made to address the challenges created by inequalities and a capitalistic consumer culture. These interventions speak to policy makers, town planners, social work, child and youth care, and teaching professions, and include recommendations towards social work education and further research.