There is great interest in US in forging a sense of civic responsibility in young people, and we know from research and observation that the process of developing civic interest emerges through childhood and adolescence. A new study sheds light on how civic interest develops and thus how programmes to promote civic action could be designed.

Young people identified civic action with these characteristics:

  • Future-mindedness
  • Leadership
  • Purposefulness
  • Responsibility
  • Generosity (for volunteering)

They rated:

  • future-mindedness as the top characteristic of voters,
  • generosity as the top characteristic of volunteers,
  • leadership as the top characteristic of protestors,
  • responsibility as the top characteristic of environmentalists.

Ninety children and young people between 9 and 19 years old were asked to characterise four types of civic activity: voting, volunteering, protesting and protecting the environment.

They were given cards showing 12 characteristics (amazed, creative, forgiving, future-minded, generous, grateful, humble, joyful, leader, purposeful, responsible, thrifty) and asked to sort them for each type of civic activity, from “exactly like this person” to “not at all like this person”.

Header photo: Demo für Alle. Creative Commons.


Metzger A, Syvertsen AK, Oosterhoff B, Babskie E & Wray-Lake L (2016), How children understand civic actions: A mixed methods perspective, Journal of Adolescent Research