Craig Kielburger and Malala Yousafzai are examples of teens out to make a difference in their communities and beyond.
How do teens develop the activism to change the world at such a young age? A study tried to delve into the factors conducive to such thinking. It was the first to explore how concern for future generations has its roots in adolescence.
The researchers gathered yearly responses from 142 teens between ages 13 years and 16 years. They asked the teens to respond to statements like “I try to help others by sharing what I’ve learned in my life,” and “Others would say that I have done something special for society.” This helped them to gauge how concerned the tends were about contributing to the future.
They also the teens about relationships with their close friends by reacting to assertions like, “I can tell when my friends need comforting, even when s/he doesn’t ask for it,” or “When my friend has a problem, I try to help him/her to come up with something to do about it.” This was an indicator how much they cared for their close friends.
It was observed that adolescents who had caring relationships with their friends went on to develop a concern for others beyond their immediate circle. “The real-life experience of caring for friends seems to give teens an abstract model of the importance of offering care to future generations,” says primary author Heather Lawford, faculty member at Bishop’s University. “Adolescents may learn to apply this empathic concern to the welfare of their community.”
The research also tried to evaluate whether gender was a factor in developing care-giving behaviours and friendships. Girls in the study reported more care-giving behaviours than boys. However, the researchers emphasised that anyone who was caring towards their friends could develop concern for others in a larger community, regardless of gender.
According to Lawford and co-author Anna Beth Doyle, Distinguished Professor Emeritus in Concordia University’s Department of Psychology and member of the Centre for Research in Human Development, “This research has an important message for teachers, parents and psychologists involved with adolescents: if we can successfully foster young teens showing care for their friends, we have a good chance of also fostering a desire to leave a positive mark on their community and the world.”