Why young people are going to change the world

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OPINION: WHAT are the hopes and dreams of young Australians today? What makes them happy? What are they worried about? And why are they going to save the world? Louisa Keck from The Reach Foundation has some answers.

Lazy. Entitled. Screen obsessed.

As a young person, and as someone who gets to work with young people on a daily basis, I am no stranger to these words. I have heard them used to describe the young people of today by my own mother and by federal politicians alike.

Growing up, I was told that I could be anything I wanted to be, and I was given more choice and more opportunities than perhaps any generation that has come before me. My parents’ generation – eager to avoid the parenting mistakes that their own parents may have made – did all they could to provide me with a safe and loving environment throughout my childhood.

I received participation awards at school sports carnivals and was continually affirmed for my efforts, no matter the result. Since finishing high school, I have traveled throughout Europe, Asia, South America and the United States. I worked numerous jobs at a time to save for these trips, rather than for other financial milestones like a house deposit. I have seen the rise of more technological advancements than I can count within my lifetime, from the rise of the iPhone to the roll out of Netflix. As a result, I am of the first generation to enter the workplace with a stronger grasp of key technology business skills than most senior workers.

All generations will judge what comes after them, and it’s easy to see why mine often ends up slapped with judgments to do with our work ethic and sense of entitlement. But the truth is, my generation is actually going to save the world.

Last year, The Reach Foundation partnered with social researchers Reality Check Communication Research to create The Hopes & Dreams Report. Together they spoke with over 600 young Australians to get a clearer idea of what the ‘great Australian dream’ looks like for today’s teenagers.

The survey asked what are the most important factors impacting the happiness of Australia’s young people, finding that the majority of respondents were not primarily motivated by material goals or financial success. 36% of respondents selected ‘family’ as the most important factor in their happiness, while another 36% selected ‘laughing and smiling’ and 33% selected ‘friends’.

The survey also found that young people strongly believe that embracing social justice will have a huge positive impact on their own future happiness. Young people want full equality across all walks of life, including gender, sexuality, nationality and religion, to name a few. A large number of young people are also aware of the impact human activity is having on the environment and worry about what this may mean for future generations.

The major challenges perceived by the young Australians surveyed revolve around education pressures and transitioning into adulthood. Many young Australians are worried that the current education system doesn’t allow for freedom of expression, and thus feel they are being pushed to conform rather than being encouraged to be themselves.

Despite what some people may believe, the survey also found that young Australians are aware that they are privileged and are grateful for the opportunities that they receive. They are well aware that quality of life in Australia is much higher than that of other countries and most want to use their privilege to give back and help others.

My generation has also grown up with greater access to news and current affairs than any other. As a result of the multitude of different channels and opinions available to us, we are able to arrive at a much more consistent and bipartisan view of what happens in the world. We no longer believe everything the media tells us, and instead young people often complete their own research to arrive at their own conclusions.

Our hopes and dreams are not self-centered nor do they revolve primarily around typical material indicators of success such as big houses and shiny cars. We value experiences over things and have a healthy thirst for adventure leading us to travel, live and work overseas in order to experience different cultures and see how those in other parts of the world live.

In my own experience, and that of many of the young people I work with, the issue is not that young people do not know what they want to do with their lives. It is instead that they have too many ideas, and the pathways to achieving our dreams are in many ways murkier than ever. We have been told that we can do anything we like if we put our minds to it, and yet are offered unpaid internships instead of access to entry-level jobs. We spend great chunks of our lives studying in order to secure jobs that may become obsolete in years to come. In the meantime, the costs of study increase and the dream of one day owning our own homes becomes part of a more and more distant reality.

The Hopes & Dreams survey also found that less than half of the young people surveyed agree that we have the freedom to express ourselves how we choose. We are worried that our opinions are not valid or taken seriously due to our youth, age and lack of life experience. While the below quotation represents just one young person’s experience, I believe it also represents the feelings of most of the young people I know and work with.

“I used to like expressing myself regarding school policies, government regulations and other social issues but now I feel young people’s opinions are not treated seriously. So now I don’t bother paying attention to these, as my opinions and suggestions are not really listened to, though we are encouraged to make a contribution,” Male, 14.

Young people are not apathetic by nature. I am lucky enough to work for an organisation that believes in, supports and empowers young people to create the changes in the world that we know they are capable of. Reach looks beyond the surface to encourage young people to dream, no matter their circumstances.

To quote Steve Jobs: “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do”.

The Reach Foundation is a for-purpose organisation for young people, established in 1994 by Jim Stynes OAM and Australian film director Paul Currie.

Reach supports young people to get the most out of life, aiming to improve the wellbeing of participants so they can be healthy and resilient to meet life’s challenges and fulfill their potential. Last year, Reach worked with over 44,000 young people across Victoria and NSW, delivering relevant and meaningful youth-led workshops that inspire honest conversations and ignite change. Click here to download a full copy of The Hopes & Dreams Report.

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