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. []