Young people have grown up in the era of the individual, but the taiohi we spoke to carry an innate desire for community and communal spaces
“I see a lot of young people who hold a belief about self responsibility that ‘it's all down to me to ensure my wellbeing and my future security.”
“This idea of personal responsibility has become so prevalent and I hear it come through really strongly when I speak to students about debt. ‘It's my own fault that I've come into debt, it's my own responsibility to come out of it. I'm absolutely terrified for the future but it's up to me and it's my problem.”
“Young people are talking about debt as such an individualised issue but this is a collective issue. It's affecting their generation as a whole and each student has very different experiences of debt but those different experiences are different facets of the same overall problem.”
“I think we have a responsibility to think about and respond to these issues from a more sociological or political perspective and not just as individual wellbeing type responses.” - Anon, Academic researcher on youth and civics
This idea that young people perceive collective and societal problems to be the responsibility of the individual came across frequently in the workshops too.
One clear example from previous research conducted by ActionStation is the high youth suicide rates in Aotearoa New Zealand, due, in part to an underfunded, insufficient and strained mental health system.
Some young people referred to the need for “a positive mindset” or “journalling” to tackle mental distress such as anxiety and depression. And while this may be helpful for certain individuals, the findings of this research indicate that a lot of young people’s stress and anxiety stems from economic insecurity, pressure to succeed and body image. These are societal problems, not individual ones.
“People's mental health really suffers in New Zealand and this is getting worse as the importance of the family is taken over by the importance of the individual. I want to see this balanced out, and see both wider communities and family communities grow closer. I also know for a fact that when people are suffering the systems in place tend to do nothing and often avoid helping the victim. I want to see New Zealand show love to all, not just to those who it's easiest to help or who "look" like they deserve it. But to those really do need help - those who have grown isolated from their communities.” - Anon, 19, Female, Hataitai
Many of the young people we spoke to, both in the workshops and in the open-field survey responses, expressed a desire for more community spaces to connect across generations and to people their own age.
“More teen hangout places. Where parents can leave their kids and feel safe about it.” - Sophie, 15, Female
“More local areas for teenagers to hang out but not like a youth group as I feel like they attract one specific group of friends and anyone not in that group won’t be involved. It could have food and drink as well as things like pool tables and games and couches bowling music gear just fun stuff.” - Allie, 15, Alexandra
“I want to see acceptance around historical conflicts so that we can move on and embrace our diversity as a nation. Safer streets creating more initiatives and support centers (sporting/gym, music hubs, art hubs etc) for the youth to get them off of the streets. Teachers that will help encourage self belief, determination, strong work ethic and gratitude into the mindsets of New Zealanders from the get go.” - Te Punawai, 19, Dunedin
“I really like to join groups that help me connect with other generations. I find that’s really good for my wellbeing.” - Workshop participant
“In ensuring youth wellbeing, I think the main thing is giving them space and autonomy. In the sense of giving them space, sometimes that literally looks like a safe space and letting them know that their concerns and problems are valid. For the young people I talk to, almost the best thing you can do for them is be like ‘Yeah 100%’ and let them feel that they are being seen, that even if you don't perhaps understand or have the knowledge that you’re there to learn from them. Making space for them to have the autonomy over what happens to them, they are given a space to let you know what they want and what they need and you can help them explore that but you dont take over but instead you're working with them to map out what they want their journey to look like.” - Victoria Trow, Support Manager Rainbow Youth
For some young people, safe community spaces are a refuge from home - and from loneliness.
“There is a lack of community where I live. So many of us have broken homes, and don't have healthy means of communication and attention when it comes to our lives at home. Many of us go home to mostly empty homes - and those who don't often isolate themselves at home to use their computers/internet to socialise rather than spending time with real people/friends. Young people are really facing a lot of isolation and loneliness.” - Anon, 19, Female, Hataitai
“Having spaces in the Hutt Valley where young people can hang out any time would be good for the people who feel like they have nowhere to be. People like me.” - Anon, 19, Female, Lower Hutt
Other young people spoke about how social media can generate more isolation than connection.
“It’s funny because social media was designed to connect us, but instead we just get sad and compete with each other.” - Workshop participant
“I feel there is little to no understanding from older people about what life is like for a young person. We live a globalised world without meaningful interaction (hey look, global bullying and anxiety! And a complete lack of the old community supports and bonds).” - Anon, 18, Female, Waikato
“I’ve never had a problem with it, but I know lots of my friends have had to delete Instagram because it was increasing their anxiety. There is so much pressure to be fitspo and it contributes to eating disorders and unhealthy body image ideas.” - Workshop participant
It’s interesting to note that when survey respondents were asked, “What do you like most about New Zealand?”, the second and third most popular answers after ‘Clean, green, nature’ were:
Friends, whānau, connections, community
Kiwi culture, friendly, relaxed and open-minded people
At the same time, themes of ‘bullying, cyber-bullying, peer pressure, loneliness, discrimination, not feeling heard’ were mentioned 376 times in the open-field text answers.
More research is needed but perhaps we can ascertain that while young people appreciate the friendliness of other New Zealanders, many lack safe spaces online and in real-life to connect with others.
“The biggest challenge facing young people today is feeling disconnected from friends and community, resulting in poor mental health. There are few safe, free spaces outside of school for us to interact with others.” - Anon, 22, Gender Diverse, Christchurch
“There is a lack of open, mental health communication with people just a little bit older - face to face not just on the phone.” - Anon, 23, Female, Ōtahuhu
“There is a lot of insecurity, alienation, obsession, trying to attain ‘perfection’. Young people have a lost social connection because of social media, bullying.” - Anon, 24, Female, Parnell