Advancing technological development means the UK’s social and economic order is changing. For young people growing up today, known as “post-millennials”, this presents both new opportunities and a whole host of new challenges. Explored below is research from the Legatum Institute, published in July 2018. It examines rising challenges now faced by society’s adolescents, and what needs to be done to combat them in order to truly enable the “maker” generation.
Young People’s Outlook
Adolescence is changing. Young people are growing up without clarity as to their “function” and future roles, meaning new and better opportunities have now arisen. They now have more of a social commitment than any other generation, and are the most likely to volunteer. The majority prefer purposeful work to monetary gains, and most want to work for a company that creates a positive impact. Teenage pregnancy rates have dropped dramatically, alongside engagement in underage drinking and drug taking.
Alongside these seemingly positive development however, the UK has become gripped by an adolescent mental health crisis. Over the last 25 years, rates of anxiety and depression have increased by 70%. A review of the last 30 years’ worth of data concluded that ““rates [of emotional and behavioural problems] remain at historically high levels.” Many of these young people do not receive any form of clinical support.
Most research relating to these phenomena identify social media and the digital age as an enormous contributing factor. 37% of 15 year olds are deemed to be “extreme internet users”, with social media increasing social isolation amongst young people – a key factor in mental health problems.
The Challenge for Young People
Young people today are also growing up in families away from traditional models. Beyond this, they are increasingly lacking exposure to adult norms through early participation in the workforce, with a distinct lack of “community” and “neighbourhoods” that existed in previous generations.
The British education system is also failing to supply the ever rapidly changing economy with the workers required. Over 60% of businesses believe the education system does not prepare young people adequately for working life, with British schoolchildren being some of the most uneducated in the developed world. The current university system fails its participants. Job prospects for graduates are diminishing, and over a third of students take courses with little value in terms of good future employment.
The challenge here lies in supporting young people to gain useful training in emerging and traditional industries, whilst most of these industries experience a rapid transformation through technological advancements. For many young people, their community, school and home are not serving them as well as they could. For others, the education system must start to provide a clear path to meaningful employment, alongside a sense of purpose. Efforts to improve the overall wellbeing of young people have to begin to understand the interconnectedness of their environment to succeed.
Case Study: The Icelandic Model
In the 1990s, an evidence based health initiative began in Iceland, targeting substance abuse. “Youth in Europe” involved extensive collaboration between policy-makers and researchers, underpinned by community-based work rooted in ongoing analysis and monitoring. A major element of the approach emphasised the importance of “community buy-in” and community visibility, focusing on parental support, participation in organised youth activities, and strengthening parent organisations and cooperation.
After implementation, substance abuse halve, with a marked strengthening in “protective factors” such as spending increasing time with parents. The lack of a marked decline in adolescent mental health has largely been attributed to these.
This approach has now been adopted by over 200 European Cities, demonstrating how it can be replicated across the UK. The model of evidence-based community engagement identifies this possible structure as a platform to support adolescents in overcoming life’s barriers.
Making the Future Right
The challenge of modern times now lies in combining an individual’s need to belong with the demands and opportunities presented in an increasingly globalised and digital world. We can only harness young people’s true potential through ensuring that all areas of young people’s lives provide a both challenging and supportive environment.
We must be asking:
- how best to support parents in creating this environment
- how to create positive opportunities away from the home
- how to support schools to enable young people to navigate the challenges around them
Answering these questions means that it is vital for work to continue on assessing the challenges for young people, and the causes of these.
Giving young people the power to build their community is a job for society as a whole. It should be the objective of business, government, and civil society. Young people today are “makers”, and this role must be recognised for them to be able to harness and exercise their true potential.