Adolescence is a critical development period, and understanding the factors that shape adolescent well-being is crucial for promoting positive outcomes. In Hong Kong, like many other parts of the world, adolescents face unique challenges that can impact their development. This article explores the ecological risk factors contributing to negative adolescent development in Hong Kong, focusing on understanding the impact of cultural values, neglect of holistic development, hopelessness, poverty and social disadvantage, parenting problems, and family development.

Unhealthy Cultural Values

Some values, like the importance of family and disease prevention, are essential protective factors; others, such as pragmatism, materialism, and egocentrism, can impair healthy development. The overemphasis on success and material possessions can lead to a lack of focus on holistic development leading to a selfish disregard for the well-being of others.

Neglect of Adolescent Holistic Development

In Hong Kong, there is a strong emphasis on academic excellence, which stems from the historical importance placed on education for upward social mobility. However, this focus on academic achievement often neglects other aspects of adolescent development, such as emotional management, resilience, and positive self-concept. In many Hong Kong schools, the formal curriculum lacks emphasis on psychosocial competencies, which are essential for social and emotional well-being.

A Sense of Hopelessness, Inequality and Dissatisfaction

Hong Kong’s socioeconomic landscape, characterized by income inequality, high housing prices, and limited upward mobility, contributes to a sense of hopelessness among young people. The intense academic pressure and societal and familial stressors can lead to a decline in life satisfaction and an increase in hopelessness among adolescents. The lack of systematic prevention and positive youth development programs further exacerbates these challenges.

Academic Excellence & Stress

Academic excellence is highly valued in Hong Kong, driven by the belief that it leads to better job prospects and increases the family’s status. However, the intense focus on academic achievement creates significant academic stress and reinforces a sense of incompetence and hopelessness for those with low academic achievements. Traditional Chinese beliefs about study, such as fatalism and overemphasis on studying, further contribute to negative attitudes towards schooling.

The Economic Imbalance

Despite being affluent, Hong Kong faces significant income inequality and social disadvantage. The high cost of living and limited upward mobility create economic stressors for young people, negatively impacting their development. Economic disadvantage has been identified as a risk factor for adolescent development in Hong Kong, emphasizing the need for targeted interventions and support.

Parenting Problems

Traditional parenting beliefs and practices in Hong Kong can hinder healthy adolescent development. Overemphasis on diligence, humility, and suppression of self-expression can limit the growth of autonomy, self-esteem, and healthy relationships. Parenting practices that prioritize academic achievement over holistic development can contribute to stress and a sense of inadequacy among adolescents. The lack of evidence-based parenting programs further compounds these challenges.

Family Development

Changing family structures, cross-border marriages, long working hours, and child abuse are some of the challenges that Hong Kong families face. The rise of non-intact and remarried families, increased occupational stress, and limited parental involvement can negatively impact adolescent well-being. The long working hours in Hong Kong, coupled with a lack of family solidarity, further strain family relationships and contribute to adverse developmental outcomes.

The “UNHAPPY” Developmental Acronym

When considering the ecological risk factors discussed above, the acronym “UNHAPPY” emerges, reflecting adolescents’ challenges in Hong Kong. These risk factors, including unhealthy values, neglect of holistic development, hopelessness, poverty and social disadvantage, parenting problems, and yawning family development, shape the developmental context for young people in Hong Kong. Understanding these risk factors is crucial for designing effective interventions and programs to support positive adolescent development.


Adolescent development in Hong Kong is influenced by various ecological risk factors that impact their well-being. Unhealthy values, neglect of holistic development, hopelessness, poverty and social disadvantage, parenting problems, and harmful family development all contribute to adverse outcomes for young people. Recognizing these risk factors and implementing evidence-based interventions can help mitigate their impact and promote positive youth development in Hong Kong. By addressing these challenges, Hong Kong can create a more supportive and nurturing environment for its adolescents, fostering their well-being and future success.

Liz McCaughey & AM Team

MsC, MoC. Member of: ACA, BACP

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Shek, D. T. L., & Siu, A. M. H. (2019). “UNHAPPY” Environment for Adolescent Development in Hong Kong. Journal of Adolescent Health, 64(6), S1–S4.