Teenagers more socially active than previous generations


A new study by think tank Demos, supported by National Citizen Service (NCS), has found that today’s teenagers are more socially active than previous generations, challenging false stereotypes by throwing themselves into charity fundraising and community projects.

The report surveyed 1,000 14 – 17 year olds and 500 secondary school teachers to reveal the social and political attitudes of this emerging generation.

The new findings confirm a little reported trend in a wide body of academic research that shows their increased sense of civic engagement and responsibility. The report found that:

  • 80% of young people believe their generation is more concerned with social issues than previous generations of teenagers; a view supported by two thirds of teachers
  • 75% of young people expressed a desire to participate social action, with 88% of teachers agreeing teens are more than or as likely to volunteer as previous generations

Over half of teenagers (56%) reported raising money for charity, 35% had signed a petition to support a local or national issue and a third (33%) helped an organisation such as a local charity. 

The research also shows the enormous benefits volunteering and social action can have on teenagers’ personal development. Volunteers report higher levels of well-being, social cohesion and employability, which in turn develop skills that help them compete in a competitive labour market and encourage more integrated communities. 

  • 90% of young people themselves agreed that the experience made them feel better about themselves, care more about others, work better in a team, and improve their self-confidence

Over 70% felt it changed their views on other groups in society

Teachers also overwhelmingly see the benefit of volunteering and social action programmes for teenagers.

  • 88% of teachers recognised that taking part in social action has helped pupils learn skills including leadership and teamwork, and develop qualities such as persistence, resilience and empathy
  • At a time of high youth unemployment, over 80% of teachers agree that taking part in social action improved their future employment chances and made them want to volunteer more in the future, arguably helping to create a more engaged, cohesive and tolerant society for the long term 

As the first generation to have grown up with social media, the research confirms the power of digital technologies in engaging teenagers in social action, giving them a platform to voice their opinions:

  • 87% of teenagers agree that social media is an effective way to gain momentum behind social issues
  • 84% of teachers believe these new networks and forms of engagement are or can be just as effective as traditional forms of engagement (e.g. joining a political party)
  • 57% of teachers have noticed teenagers using social media as a tool to become involved in politics and good causes

Strikingly, teachers surveyed tended to recall mostly negative stereotypes of teens being dominant in the media, but were much more positive when asked separately about their own experience. Teachers felt media portrayals of teenagers depicted them as ‘lacking in respect’ (68%), ‘being lazy’ (58%), and ‘being anti-social’ (54%).

However, they felt that these depictions were far from reality, describing the teenagers they know with positive attributes such as being ‘caring’ (33%), ‘enthusiastic’ (44%), and ‘hard-working’ (43%).

Michael Lynas, CEO of NCS Trust said: “Our research shows the huge engagement of today’s generation with social issues. 37% of teenagers reported volunteering in the past year and teachers also recognise the important contribution of extra-curricular activities, with 90% agreeing they’d welcome more support in encouraging their students to participate.”

Jonathan Birdwell, author of the report said: “The next generation could be the most active citizens we’ve seen in a generation. We know they are motivated to make a difference, just the approach they take is radically different, which is why it’s arguably less visible. Rather than relying on politicians to solve the world’s problems, they’re rolling up their sleeves, and powering up their laptops to get things done.”

School Leadership Today