Teachers need to facilitate teenage thirst for online social activism, says new report

19th February 2014 at 13:00

Online activism and raising money for charity aren't exactly the first things that come to mind when you think of the stereotypical teenager, but the results of a new study fly in the face of received ideas to reveal that young people today are more socially active than the previous generation.

Think tank Demos, with support from National Citizen Service (NCS), surveyed 1,000 14- to 17-year-olds and 500 secondary school teachers for its report. It found that despite a falling interest in traditional politics, teenagers were committed to affecting change through volunteering, fundraising and digital engagement.

“The next generation could be the most active citizens we’ve seen in a generation,” said Jonathan Birdwell, head of the citizenship programme at Demos and author of the report. “We know they are motivated to make a difference. Just the approach they take is radically different, which is why it’s less visible.”

As the first generation to grow up with social media, it makes sense that teenagers today are shouting about what matters to them from an online platform. However, these young keyboard warriors are not alone – their teachers are right behind them.

According to the report, 87 per cent of teachers believe that online forms of engagement can be just as effective as traditional forms such as joining a political party. What’s more, 57 per cent have already noticed teenagers using social media as a tool to become involved in politics and good causes.

With teenagers and social media both regularly falling victim to negative reports, it might be time for teachers to focus on the young people who are challenging the stereotypes and assist them in that pursuit. In too many schools social media is seen as something to be avoided, but this report shows that it can be put to good use.

The report also shows that there is a thirst for volunteering and activism among young people that could be going untapped. Providing opportunities to get involved with community and charity groups offline as well as online is another area where teachers could help.

The upcoming We Day, run by charity Free the Children and taking place on 7 March, would be a great place for teachers to start. The event, which includes a charity concert, aims to inspire and facilitate a lasting involvement in social action in young people. The concert will feature performances and speeches by the likes of rapper Dizzee Rascal, former US vice-president Al Gore and singer Ellie Goulding. You and your students can watch the whole of the We Day event live from Wembley Arena via TES Connect


Help students to find out more about volunteering with resources from Volunteering England:

Interested in volunteering?
A video resource about where to start when considering volunteering.

Thinking about volunteering
This factsheet answers frequently asked questions about becoming a volunteer.

Fundraising resources
Links to relevant organisations and websites that provide information about fundraising.


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