Adults massively under-estimate teenagers’ social commitment, report finds

By agency reporter
August 14, 2018

Just five per cent of adults think young people today are “very likely” to engage in social action, despite 68 per cent of young people saying they took part in such activity in the last year, a new report reveals.

Teenagency, by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, explores how likely young people aged 14-18 are to engage in social action such as volunteering and whether this is related to how creative young people see themselves as being.

YouGov interviewed both adults and 14-18 year olds as part of the report [see methodology], finding a stark gap in attitudes to young people and volunteering.

The Centre for Real-World Learning at the University of Winchester, the RSA’s partner in the project, identified research which suggests a link between creativity and having the confidence to do good.

The report finds young people today have a strong desire to help others but many do not feel they can make a difference: 84 per cent of young people want to help others, but only 52 per cent believe that they can make a positive difference in their communities.

Meanwhile 68 per cent of young people told YouGov they participated in volunteering or other forms of social action, such as campaigning, in the last year. However just five per cent of adults think that young people today are “very likely” to have taken part, while only 33 per cent said they were “fairly likely” to have done so.

When asked to consider a series of statements that could be used to describe themselves, 84 per cent of young people surveyed selected 'I want to help other people'. In contrast, a representative sample of UK adults most commonly selected 'selfish' (29 per cent), 'lazy' (27 per cent) and 'anti-social' (27 per cent) as terms to describe young people today. Less than four per cent chose 'selfless'.

Religion continues to play an important role in volunteering, it adds: 73 per cent of young people who identify as religious have taken part in social action, compared with 65 per cent of young people who do not consider themselves religious.

The report urges a focus on spreading volunteering opportunities to other groups, especially the least affluent and those who don’t see themselves as creative.

Laura Partridge, report author and senior researcher at the RSA, said: “Young people today have a strong desire to help others but many do not feel like they can make a difference. Negative stereotyping by adults may contribute to this feeling of helplessness. Our research shows that young people, especially those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, need opportunities to shape the social action they are part of in order to develop the skills and confidence to make a difference. There are simply not enough opportunities like these.”

Professor Bill Lucas, Director of the Centre for Real-World Learning at the University of Winchester, added: “This research suggests two things. First, if young people think that they are creative, they are more likely to want to do good in their community. Secondly it reveals that doing good and being creative are mutually reinforcing activities of benefit both to the individuals concerned and to wider society”.

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* Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce https://www.thersa.org/

[Ekk/6]

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