The doom and gloom infecting our young people
It’s easy to write off young people as immature and ill-equipped to deal with the challenges of adulthood, when you’re bombarded with images of them partying and drinking.
But scratch a little deeper and you soon realise that judging young people by the mostly harmless antics of a few is deeply unfair.
Mission Australia’s 11th annual national Youth Survey – which this year tested the views of 15,000 people aged 15-19 from across the country – found, that in terms of their priorities and values, young Australians most definitely have good heads on their shoulders.
They value family and friends above all else; they’re volunteering more than ever before; and the vast majority are happy with their home life.
But the good news doesn’t mean they’re not also wrestling with a range of issues that shouldn’t cause the rest of us to take stock and consider what we can do to help.
Chief among the survey’s findings this year is the level to which young Australians are concerned about the economy and its impact on them and their loved ones.
When asked to nominate the most important issues facing Australia, the economy and financial matters were nominated most frequently in the top three by 31 per cent of respondents.
In the last two surveys concern around the economy as an issue of national importance has barely rated.
In 2010, only 19.5 per cent of young people considered it a top three national issue. In comparison, 38 per cent nominated the environment as the most pressing issue facing the country.
In last year’s survey, concern around the economy didn’t make the top three.
Now, on the surface, that the economy is easily the most important national issue on the minds of young people might not seem cause for worry.
The international economic meltdown, and closer to home, the raised stakes of the hung Parliament, the fixation on achieving a budget surplus and a constant clash of powerful views around the health of our economy have dominated the national conversation over the past 12 months.
Young people don’t exist in a vacuum – they pick up on what’s happening around them; on what their parents, politicians and media say.
They’re not immune from the anxiety that can be created by constant talk of economic doom and gloom.
But while we can attribute some increase in concern to the climate of discussion over the last 12 months, there’s also no question that young people’s financial worries are based on real experience: a parent out of work, a family struggling to pay the bills, unpaid debts.
This year’s survey picked up a significant number of truly worrying comments from participants, some as young as 15, about their family’s parlous economic circumstances and their need to get a job, or be less of a financial burden, to help keep the household afloat.
It’s a result that doesn’t exactly gel with the frivolous schoolies image.
Here’s just a snapshot of the comments we received:
I think I need to get a better job which pays better so my mum can spend more money on herself and less on me which she deserves.
(F, 15, WA)
I might need to go and find a job to help my mum and dad have some extra money for anything they need.
(F, 15, SA)
Only my dad works full-time. I try and help with the business, earn some money to pay for my costs and some of the bills, while keeping up my academic record.
(M, 18, NSW)
Getting a good job to help the family with money problems and looking after myself.
(F, 18, SA)
Kids as young as 15 shouldn’t be worrying about finding a job to keep their family afloat. They should be concentrating on their studies and living the carefree adolescent life we would want for them.
That many appear to be not is a serious concern.
So what can we do to help alleviate this anxiety?
Given that the international economy shows no sign of significant recovery and our national leaders aren’t about to stop disagreeing on domestic finances it would seem our ability to respond is limited.
Firstly, we can work to improve the financial literacy of young people. Research tells us most young people want to learn about saving, about planning for the future.
Mission Australia has experience in working successfully with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds on their financial literacy, lessons that can be rolled out nationally.
We can also do more to support young people to make a successful transition from school to the next stage of their lives, be that further education, training or the workforce.
This can be an extremely challenging time and there’s a strong case for us introducing a mechanism that tracks young people through these years, so if any extra support is needed we can pick that up and provide it. It will stop young people falling through the cracks.
Finally, when youth unemployment is at such high levels, when parents are in tenuous employment or losing their jobs, we need to make sure we’ve got a functioning welfare safety net in place that is able to meet a range of needs.
At the moment, our welfare system is too complex, confusing and inequitable. It’s a mire for most individuals and families that’s all too easy to become lost in.
What we can’t do is ignore the anxieties and concerns of young Australians around their financial situation.
Do any of us want to see a greater number of young people fretting about getting a job to pay the household bills in our next survey in 12 month’s time?
The full results of the 2012 national Youth Survey can be viewed at Mission Australia’s website.
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