Generation Citizen

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A new generation emerges every 15 to 20 years. Teenagers today (between the ages of 14 and 17) are the last cohorts of Generation Y (figure 1). In this report, we present the first ever look at this cohort in order to determine what insights we can derive about the next generation to come. Teenagers today are ‘digital natives’. Social media and new technologies have transformed the way that they view the world, politics and possibilities for the future. At the same time, they are growing up in the ‘age of austerity’: they face increasing education and housing costs as well as a rapidly changing and highly competitive labour market. It has been argued that young people today are apathetic, selfish and narcissistic.1 And yet, the research presented in this report shows that, contrary to negative stereotypes, today’s teenagers are characterised by their tolerance, compassion and motivation to tackle social issues. Teachers are overwhelmingly positive about them, describing teenagers as ‘caring’, ‘enthusiastic’ and ‘hard working’. They are volunteering more. The Cabinet Office’s Community Life Survey for 2012-13 showed that 16-19-year-olds reported substantial increases in annual formal and informal volunteering, up 16 and 15 percentage points respectively from 2010 to 2011.2 They are also behaving more responsibly over alcohol and drugs than generations of teenagers over the past 15 years. Our research suggests that teenagers are motivated to make a difference in their community but the tools they use and the approach they take is different from those of previous generations. They do not rely on politicians and others to solve the world’s problems, but instead roll up their sleeves and power up their laptop and smartphone to get things done through crowd-sourced collaboration. They value bottom-up social action and social enterprise over top-down politics. As digital natives, they are accustomed to speed and responsiveness and desire a politics that engages them at the same pace. If given the right opportunities and support, today’s teenagers might just transform our notions and expectations of active citizenship. Some have referred to the next generation as ‘Generation C’ because they will be the most ‘connected’ generation in history.3 Our research suggests that the letter ‘C’ is apt for another reason: because this cohort could include the most active citizens we have seen in a generation. This report thus introduces the great generation that will shape the next century: Generation Citizen.


Jonathan Birdwell

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