The young people we spoke with love Aotearoa New Zealand’s natural environment, and they’re worried we’re not doing enough to protect it or our planet
When asked the question, “What do you like most about New Zealand?” 41% of survey respondents (438 people) wrote answers that can be grouped under the heading, ‘Clean, green nature’. For context, the next closest answer was ‘Friends, whānau, connections, community’ as chosen by 21% of respondents (220 people).
Some of the young people spoke about how wellbeing and the health of our natural world are intrinsically linked.
“Spiritual wellbeing for me is time in nature and care for Papatūānuku.” - Workshop participant
“I think that looking after our country and keeping it "green" is one of my greatest desires. I feel that the environment is a key part to my wellbeing.” - Paris, 13, Female
Many spoke to their desire to see more action on climate change, conservation, liveable cities, better public transport and an end to plastic pollution.
“I would like to see stronger environmental protection. Many kiwis don't know how special New Zealand is. Lets keep it pure.” - Mila, 22, Female, Takaka
“More and more people are moving to the cities and they need to be designed with people in mind. We need spaces for people to gather and socialise, we need strong communities and happy spaces. We also need to care for our environment more. Stop city sprawl and instead go up. Stop plastic pollution and clean up our waterways and natural bush.” - Kate, 24, Female, Grafton
“I want to see more action on environmental issues, especially marine pollution, overfishing and climate change.” - Imogen, 18, Female, Remuera
106 of the survey participants also wrote comments about the stress and anxiety they experience due to lack of action on climate change and other environmental issues.
“With climate change, I'm worried about our survival.” - Anon, 23, Male, Nelson
“I get increased anxiety and problems with mental health carrying what feels like the weight of having to solve the world’s problems.” - Anon, 24, Female, Carterton
The young people we spoke to value accessible and affordable education, but they worry they are not being equipped with the life skills and knowledge they need to be flourishing in the 21st century
When asked to choose from a list of 10 options (including ‘Other’) identifying “the single most important thing to you in the world right now”, the majority of respondents 25.4% (263 people) chose ‘Education/school’.
When asked, “What things are causing you to worry?” 49% percent of respondents (514 people) said, “Succeeding in studies and getting good grades.”
However, another common theme that came up in our interviews, the open-field survey questions and the workshops was that some young people (143 in our open-field survey) feel underserved by the education system, which they do not believe is preparing them for the 21st century.
Some young people felt under huge amounts of pressure with exams, homework, and deadlines.
“Having to think about what subjects you need to take throughout NCEA in order to set you up well for a career that you may potentially be in for your whole life is stressful. Being 15-16 is far too young to begin to decide what you want to do for the rest of your life.” - Lucas, 18, Trans Man, Thames
Others talked about how the education system adds unnecessary stress and does not teach young people the skills they need.
“NCEA in high school doesn't help students learn, it’s more like memorising to pass and I wish the education system taught us to learn about skills and information that would help us in life.” - Jenny, 17, Female, Mt Roskill
“The education system isn’t preparing us for the future as well as other countries. And I also think that something needs to be done to show the purpose of everything because sometimes at school it can all get a bit too much and stressful and it’s hard to see the bigger picture. It can make you feel lost and without a purpose, but it’s so important not to feel that way so that you feel like life is worth living.” - Anon, 17, Female, Christchurch
“I don’t even trust that our schools are preparing us for the future of work. I know it’s going to be a gig economy and I’ll probably work 10 different jobs in my lifetime. It’s different from when my parents were young.” - Workshop participant
Some people also mentioned a lack of student support services.
“I want to see better wages, more community support, better student services.” - Anon, 20, Female, Dunedin
The teacher we interviewed is concerned about the lack of sexuality, healthy relationships and consent education in schools.
“There are very endemic, very entrenched wellbeing issues around sexual health and consent and relationships which young people are very unaware of often. That has flow on impacts in terms of what they think of as normal as adults and how they treat others.
“I see it from sexual aggression, to just misunderstandings, to a complete absence of knowledge about certain areas. Alternatively young boys for example are not learning decent social skills because as teenagers they communicate and socialise mostly through video games or sport for example. They aren’t actually learning these very useful soft social skills and interactions, like being vulnerable, communicating clearly, understanding your emotions and being able to process them and talk about it.” - Anon, Teacher, Male
This was supported by what we heard from young people too.
“Things I’m worried about: Mental health, bullying, suicide, cyber-safety. The fact young people are not educated enough on sexual safety in terms of consent and manipulation and in some cases one person will do something to another person and then go brag about it but other people encourage this and congratulate them so the victim feels that they were in the wrong. Often guys think its cool to have done sexual things to girls even if the girl didnt want it and then they tell all their mates about it. I saw it happen a lot at school; people encouraging things that shouldn't have happened.” - Anon, 19, Female, Lower Hutt
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
Young people need more great role models in their community, on TV and in positions of power and leadership
Survey respondents were asked to identify how strongly they agreed with the statement, “I see people that look like me in leadership roles (e.g. politicians, principals, professors)” on a Likert scale with 0 being ‘strongly disagree’ and 5 being ‘strongly agree’. The average answer chosen by 1,043 people was 2.78. Only 34% of respondents agreed with, or strongly agreed with this statement. 57% of the survey respondents who identified as Asian chose a score of 2 or less, as did 50% of the Pasifika respondents and 48% of the Māori respondents. This is compared to 30% of Pākehā respondents who chose 2 or less.
77% of the gender diverse young people who took our survey also chose 2 or less when answering the statement.
In short, a majority of the young people we spoke to do not see people in positions of power and influence who look like them - but it’s worse if they are gender diverse, Māori, Asian or Pasifika.
“I would love to seem more Māori and female role models. I also want to see change in mental health, and less discrimination towards disadvantaged people, families, youth, children, gangs, the LGBT community, and people from other countries e.g. refugees - Whaiora, 23, Female, Kawerau
“We need more exposure to different cultures, sexualities, disabilities, gender identity etc. within the media.” - Lucas, 22, Trans-Man, Thames
“We need more female representation in politics and more LGBTQ representation in media.” - Danica, 21, Female, Mt Roskill
When asked to rank how strongly they agree or disagree with statement “I see people that look like me on TV and in movies”, the average response was 2.67, and the breakdown in demographics is very similar to the above.
One of the academic researchers we interviewed also had this to say:
“It’s really important for any young person’s wellbeing that connections through whānau, and communities are made to give people their sense of place their turangawaewae, their ability to stand on a place and know that they are represented, loved, welcomed and have a voice.
“We know that significant adult role models and particularly community members play an incredibly important role in increasing the ability of young people to succeed. The role modelling for their education, for their sport, extracurricular, music, everything.
“Adult mentoring is so incredibly powerful and often underestimated because sometimes people can overcome an extremely difficult home background and they [the role models] can provide a level of stability. That is the role of youth worker. Sometimes the teachers and school play that role and get people from the place that they are to a completely different place due to the the strategic influence they have in their life.
“Schools have a role to play in terms of creating a zone of stability. A school can play an incredibly powerful role in ensuring wellbeing.”
Young people should be taught about how to go about making change in their community and country, and people in positions of power need to get better at listening and being responsive
“I would love to see brave political leadership where young people and children have a real voice. System change and better recognition of the Treaty that moves into our social structures and beyond lip service. A move towards collectivism and more power for local community. Disability accessibility of all services, public spaces, including education, justice and politics.” - Anon, 24, Female, Wellington
Survey respondents were asked to rank how strongly or not they agreed with 12 statements on a Likert scale of 0 = strongly disagree, and 5 = strongly agree.
Of the 12 statements, the one that ranked the lowest among participants was, ‘I know how to change things I don’t like in my community’.
55% of respondents (571 people) chose 2 or under. While only 20% of respondents (202 people) said they strongly agreed with, or agreed with the statement.
In the open-field survey responses and in the workshops, some young people felt like their voices were dismissed or ignored by people older than them, or people in positions of power.
“There should be more trust in young people. I feel a huge negative stereotype towards us millennials.” - Valerie, 24, Female, Rangiora
“I personally feel a lot of the older generation/s don't listen to us and dismiss our voices. We need more encouragement and support by these people so our voices are heard and our problems are brought to the attention of those who could potentially solve them. It's also hard when you're studying (either in school or uni) and working and getting into debt and trying to have a social life and being an activist etc etc - it can lead to burnout very easily, and we need more support.” - Sophie, 18, Female, Nelson
“Young people are consistently undervalued and unheard in workplaces.” - Maddy, 22, Female, Auckland
Some also felt that those in positions of power had not been very responsive when young people did try to make themselves heard.
“I want to see a better minimum wage, a living wage, better bicycle infrastructure, more focus on environment, the housing crisis solved, more power to communities, council and government who really listen to what people want and make changes, no matter how small.”- Sam, 19, Male, Nelson
“Young people have a lack of a voice in the future of New Zealand. We rarely get to influence political policies for things that affect us such as the curriculum.” - Dana, 19, Female, Christchurch
Here’s what one of the academic researchers we interviewed had to say:
“One quite obvious example of where young people are being left out is how we think about our planning and political processes. Especially those young people who are not voters because they are under 18. I think we should lower the voting age to 16. That's one of the things that we can do to support young people.
“Young people tend to get sidelined in the policy process and I think a lot of our urban space and infrastructure is a great example. Our cities are not built to support young people's wellbeing. We've got cities that are built entirely around cars and the use of cars but when you're asking young people how do you get around they’re going to be biking, busing, walking. They need transport that is affordable and is safe and a lot of are planning processes aren't allowing for that. We are constructing cities that basically require the use of a car in many cases because it's just thinking about policy from the perspective of what works for your average middle age New Zealander.
“We should be thinking about our policy from the perspective of young people, how they engage in these spaces and how they will use them.”
Some young people expressed a desire for a different type of politics.
“More action from politicians, and less time spent trying to score points against the 'other team'. We should all be on the same side here, and it would be great if New Zealand was better at working constructively with others.” - Anon, 24, Male, Wellington
“I want more opportunities in the Arts and Politics which don't require people to conform to ideologies, parties or identities.” - Michael, 16, Male, Hamilton
Others identified the need for stronger citizenship and historical education in schools.
“There is not enough education around politics, handling money and taxes.” - Emily, 24, Female, Palmerston North
“More teaching about our history, values and culture that we can be proud of, like the fact that we were the first country in the world to give women the vote.” - Timothy, 22, Male, Geraldine
It’s important to note here that young people are not well-represented in government. At the time of writing, there are only two MPs under the age of 30, despite that age group making up roughly 34% of the population. [https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/nz.html]