Contributing to and leading change

This sections examines young people’s social action: Traditional forms including volunteering Participation in political groups New ways of creating change using technology New ways of creating change with the disciplines of business  

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The Overview

People are engaging with issues differently

Don’t count the days, make the days count.

Muhammad Ali, boxer and activist

The way young people think about issues is changing

In navigating an increasingly globalised and complex society, many people, including young people, have changed the way they think about issues.  They now consider them as they arise, rather than fitting them to a preconceived broader ideology or set of principles (Manning 2013).  National and global issues have been shown to be meaningful for young people if they can connect them to their local environments and immediate experiences (Harris & Wyn 2009).  For example, the environment was the second biggest concern on a national and global level in the ‘World Values Survey’ because young people could relate this to water use and water shortages in their own areas (Harris & Wyn 2009).  When young people felt issues were unrelated to their everyday lives (for example war and terrorism), they felt powerless to act on them (Harris & Wyn 2009).

Young people are:

  • less likely to become members of organisations such as political parties or trade unions
  • more likely to participate in horizontal or non-hierarchical networks
  • more likely to connect issues to their everyday lives and local environments
  • more focused on personal, individualised strategies to contribute to social change
  • more likely to have global information networked capitalism as their reference point than modern welfare capitalism
  • more project orientated
  • increasingly enacting through social media (Loader et al 2014)

Young people also prefer to discuss issues with people they feel are welcoming and comfortable: family, friends and peers in their classrooms (Harris et al 2008; Harris & Wyn 2009).

Watch young people challenging the view of themselves as changemakers



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Young people are concerned about issues

It is difficult to ascertain exactly what issues young people care most about because of the absence of randomised surveys.  The Mission Australia annual youth survey (2014) reported the three biggest concerns for young people in 2014 were politics and societal values (28%), the economy and financial matters (27%) and alcohol and drugs (23%).  Four other large surveys have shown their more specific concerns in these areas (below).

The main concerns for young people in Australia are:

  • The economy, finding a job, unemployment, being independent, money
  • The cost and quality of education, doing well in studies
  • Health, Medicare and health care access
  • Equal opportunity including in marriage, by gender, and personal/civil liberties
  • Environment, sustainability, global warming, carbon tax, pollution
  • How government runs/spends, taxation
  • Housing availability and affordability (rent) (Devinney et al 2012; Australia Institute 2013; AYAC 2013; Bean et al 2014).

Further reading including detailed graphs and analysis

Details of the concerns for young people and adults from major Australian surveys

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The issues young people care about are similar to adult concerns

Young people care about the same things as adults but rank issues slightly differently.  The “What Matters to Australians” survey tested for differences and found young people were more likely to be concerned about:  minority rights, societal social wellbeing, worker/employment rights, and equality of opportunity (Devinney et al 2012).  Global problems appear to be of equal concern to young people and adults.

Young people are taking action to promote global issues in their local communities

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  1. Young people are a vital resource
  2. Future challenges for young people
  3. The transition from school to work
  4. Contributing to and leading change