Last Friday, March 7th 2014 saw the launch of We Day, a movement designed to encourage global student participation in citizenship. Every 15 to 20 years a new generation emerges and, as Generation Y become adults, it is time to welcome a new generation – Generation Citizen as their successor. Generation Citizen is the name given to young people currently between the age of 14 and 17 and a major new report from the think-tank, Demos, suggests that it is time to confront the negative stereotypes that have been allowed to build up around teenagers. The media often paint a very bleak picture of an anti social youth – portraying them as out of control, feckless and self-centred. Headlines often focus on the difficult future that this next generation are facing; a future clouded by a competitive and fast-changing labour market, increasing housing and education costs, and new pressures from social media.
Yet, instead of taking to the streets in anger, large scale research suggests that many young people are having a positive impact on these challenges through social enterprise, social media and volunteering. Teachers, who know young people better than most, describe them as ‘caring’, ‘enthusiastic’ and ‘hard-working’ and believe that teenagers today are more likely to volunteer for good causes and set up their own group, movement or socially motivated project than any previous generation.
We see this day in, day out at Minsthorpe. Our students typify the ‘can do’ attitude of Generation Citizen and could not be farther away from the popular, negative stereotypes of a disaffected youth. They are committed, connected and caring and are responding to the challenges of the future – not just by buckling down but also by giving back. Today’s teenagers are digital natives – they are less likely to wait for politicians to solve the problem but, instead, roll up their sleeves and power up their laptops and smartphones and get things done through crowd-sourced collaboration. If we give them the right support and opportunities, today’s teenagers might just transform our ideas and expectations of active citizenship!