Climate change inaction, low trust in politicians, addressing mental health – Report reveals the issues concerning Australia’s young people

 SYDNEY, Wednesday 17 April 2019 – Australia’s children and young people consider the need to take action on climate change, to reduce air, sea and land pollution and to transition to clean energy as urgent and as being the greatest over-arching threat to their safety. They see the impacts of inaction getting worse in the future and have largely lost faith in our leaders and decision-makers because of these issues.
 
A Climate for Change: 2019 Young Ambassador Report is the culminating research from the national consultations held by UNICEF Australia’s eight Young Ambassadors with children and young people across the country, supported by two national YouGov Galaxy surveys to quantify the findings. It has also found that the pressure and pace of the modern world is resulting in high levels of stress at school, poor mental health and concern about delivery of related services, particularly in regional areas.
 
Pointedly, the research found that children and young people in Australia today, from a young age, have very low levels of trust (low to extremely low) in politicians (55 per cent among those aged 14 to 17 and 65 per cent among those aged 18 and 19 years).
 
“It is, in fact, not unusual among children and younger teenagers to think having six Prime Ministers in ten years is normal for our country,” said UNICEF Australia Young Ambassador, Josh Brittain.
 
The Young Ambassadors consulted with 1,517 young people aged from 3 to 22 years in preschool and primary and secondary schools, as well as community education centres, Guide and Scout groups across Australia, in and outside capital cities. The supporting YouGov Galaxy surveys were conducted in all states and territories among a statistically representative group of 1,007 young people aged 14 to 17 years (next voters), as well as an additional group of aged 18 and 19 (new voters) on questions of trust.
 
“This research is very revealing – it shows that children and young people in Australia want action – and action on many fronts,” said Tony Stuart, Chief Executive of UNICEF Australia. “They are often dissatisfied and frustrated by the ideology and politicisation that has enveloped the huge issues that they consider are shaping their lives, now and into the future. And they want action.”
 
“This research clearly illustrates the extent to which so many children, from a very young age, begin to actively engage with the information available to them, assess it and arrive at deeply considered positions. This is a process that becomes more sophisticated as they grow older. Their views on climate change, energy, mental health and education are some particularly vivid examples of this,” said Amy Lamoin, Director of Policy and Advocacy.
 
“Young people are impatient with ideology, and want action based on sound policy making, evidence and stable leadership going forward. This is an election year, and the 30th anniversary of the Children’s Convention.  The question is who will take leadership for children to provide them with a fair chance?”
 
FAST FACTS FROM THE REPORT:
 
Children as young as 10 and 11 (Year 5) raised mental health issues in consultations, with a general concern that these issues were not well discussed at school. However, high school children tended to acknowledge positive progress being made through proactive discussions at school, though they were concerned about the stigma that remains associated with it.
 
A very concerning one quarter (24 per cent) of young people aged 14 to 17 years consider themselves to be in poor mental health and 25 per cent consider themselves to be in poor control of their emotions. The vast majority - 91 per cent - are concerned about mental health with 55 per cent being very concerned, increasing to 63 per cent of females and 80 per cent of youth identifying as LGBTIQA+. By contrast, 18 per cent view their physical health and fitness as being poor. Many are concerned about inactivity at school.
 
Children and young people also commonly cited stress created by workloads at school as being at unacceptably high levels, often citing anxiety associated with the transition from primary to high school. Almost three quarters (71 per cent) aged 14 to 17 say they experience above normal levels of stress at school, with 35 per cent reporting very high levels of stress.
 
Though the overwhelming majority of consultation and survey participants generally equate home with safety, school and public places are viewed as less safe places, particularly as children grow up and spend more time outside the family unit. Bullying is experienced from early primary school, becoming more sophisticated as children grow older. Among those aged 14 to 17, 43 per cent have been bullied at school in the last two years. There is general low regard for action taken by schools. Over a third of those bullied (35 per cent) did not report it. Among those that did, 45 per cent felt action by the school was ineffective.
 
Across age, location and gender, children and young people in Australia view education as the foundation for successful futures and positive wellbeing. From mid primary school onwards, education is seen as intrinsically linked to employment and success in life after school. Though they want the curriculum to include greater teaching on practical life skills (everyday finance, problem solving/ logical thinking, on-the-job and recruitment skills), they place high value on traditional subjects, particularly maths and English.
 
Overlaying all of this, children and young people in Australia today are overwhelmingly worried about the threat of climate change and the ongoing failure and seeming unwillingness of successive governments to take any effective action to mitigate what they consider to be a formidable threat. They start to raise issues about the environment in terms of pollution and welfare and extinction of wildlife, becoming a more sophisticated conversation about climate change and energy as they grow older. It is overwhelmingly clear their views are informed by engagement with the science and a rejection of ideology.
 
The vast majority aged 14 to 17 (86 per cent), view climate change as some form of threat to their safety, with 59 per cent considering it to be a significant or large threat. Only 14 per cent consider it to be no threat at all. Three quarters (73 per cent) consider that climate change caused by human activity is affecting the world “a lot” now, while 84 per cent think it will affect the world “a lot” in the future.
 
When it comes to taking action, almost all young people aged 14 to 17 years consider it important for Australia to reduce its carbon emissions – 69 per cent see this as “very important”, with a further 28 per cent seeing it as “quite important. With this in mind, the vast majority (88 per cent) of these young people favour renewable technologies (solar, wind, hydro) as the sources for our energy production, and are very considered about how this should be achieved. Almost half (47 per cent) favour an orderly transition, while a further 41 per cent favour a more rapid pace. A small 5 per cent prefer that we “mainly use fossil fuels, but also use renewable energy to some extent”. Only 3 per cent want Australia to “stay with fossil fuels”.
 
From primary school onwards, children in consultations said they simply did not trust politicians. Further, over half of young people aged 14 to 17 years (55 per cent) have a low level of trust in Australia’s federal politicians, including ten per cent whose level of trust is ‘extremely low’. An additional survey of young people aged 18 and 19 years, show that a proportion of 11 per cent more new voters have a low level of trust is federal politicians (ie 66 per cent). To rebuild trust among young people, 61 per cent aged 14 to 17 and 65 per cent aged 18 and 19 want them to “keep their promises”. Almost half (45 per cent) aged 14 to 17 and over half of new voters aged 18 and 19 (54 per cent) would be persuaded by ‘stability in leadership’.
 
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For more information, please contact:

Brinsley Marlay, UNICEF Australia, 0403 604 182, bmarlay@unicef.org.au