How do young people view civic action?

Photo: Demo für Alle. Creative Commons.

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”.

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. Studies like this one aim to shed light on how civic interest develops and thus how programmes to promote civic action could be designed.

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