A study of 702 11- to 19-year-olds in Southern California investigated what factors might encourage them to get involved in civic activity – defined as volunteering, politics or informal helping in the community. Classroom civic learning and family political discussions topped the list.
The researchers – Laura Wray-Lake at the University of California, Los Angeles and Michelle Sloper at Claremont Graduate University in California, USA – found a lot of informal helping among the young people but much less political activity. The older the young people were, the more active they were. Girls were more involved in informal helping and less involved in politics than boys were.
The researchers looked at a number of factors that might encourage civic activity: civic learning in the classroom, family political discussions, a friendly neighborhood, family messages of compassion, trusted peer friendships and a positive environment at school.
Statistical analysis revealed that different environmental factors were linked to specific types of civic activity. The school, family, neighborhood, and peer supports, when combined together, were strongly linked to informal helping, meaning that support from multiple sources may promote helping others.
There were also particular links:
- Classroom civic learning was linked to more volunteering and greater political engagement, including online political activity.
- Family political discussions were linked to political activity.
Other factors, when they were examined by themselves, seemed to have less relevance to the degree of civic activity; these included a friendly neighbourhood, family messages of compassion, peer friendships and a positive school environment.
The study shows the importance of classroom civic learning in encouraging civic activity in young people.
Wray-Lake L & Sloper MA (2016), Investigating general and specific links from adolescents’ perceptions of ecological assets to their civic actions, Applied Developmental Science