Connecting young people to their sense of rebellion, values and community can save the planet. Here's how.
By Chris Large

In a recent blog I explained how consumerism affects young people’s wellbeing.

I looked at how young people suffer at the hands of consumerism and how the increasingly pervasive norm that success is defined by what you earn and what you own coincides with worrying mental health patterns [1].

In this follow up blog, I look at what we can do to help support young people in their fight back against consumerism and help them leap forward to truly fulfilling lifestyles beyond consumerism.

And I’ll demonstrate that there is a big win-win to funding programmes that help young people focus less on materialistic pursuits and more on activities that bring them enjoyment, fulfilment and the sense of making a difference.

Many high wellbeing activities generate little to no environmental impact, cost very little and increase wellbeing levels [2], alongside reducing the frequency of environmentally damaging activities.

Why focus on young people?

Young people are most vulnerable to harm from consumerism, and they show the greatest propensity to kick back against a system that is not enhancing their lives.

To take on the established cultural force that is consumerism, we need a multi-pronged approach which works across with the differing predispositions, attitudes and age ranges that make up the youth population of the UK and is built on established theory. At Global Action Plan we find hope in the following interventions:

  1. Connecting young people to their sense of rebellion, aiding their efforts to reclaim control of their real ambitions and life decisions. We can channel the increasing activism against incessant advertising and social media intrusion by demonstrating that consumerism giants seek to hijack their thoughts.

    We can call a halt to feeling obliged to spend time, effort and money curating a flawless social media feed to gain likes and popularity when real wellbeing doesn’t come from external affirmation.

  2. Connecting young people to their values, teaching the practices to live by that will deliver the personal wellbeing, and the wellbeing of others and the planet that Generation Z hold more dear than any generation before them.

    They need support in order to manage the harsh demands of social media, and the constant personal comparisons to influencers with unattainable lifestyles [3].

    We are rebranding the established wellbeing principles so that they speak more relevantly to young people. And developing programmes that school PSHE teams can deliver across all vulnerable age groups.

  3. Connecting young people to each other and to their communities. There is a cohort of young people who have reached the conclusion that the way we consume has to change, to sit more comfortably with their moral values.

    We have seen increases in health, mindfulness and fitness initiatives [4], a groundswell of vintage shopping and online clothes swapping, and high-profile figures speaking out about mental health issues and social media addiction.

    These passionate early adopters can be the advocates and lead the way for others to follow if we give them the right forums. A powerful combined youth voice can use social media as a force for cooperation and community, building everyone up, instead of increasing self-enhancement and “brand me” promotion.

Each of these interventions need funding partners who are united with us in seeing young people, Generation Z, as the potential route to reducing our environmental footprint through a radical rethink of consumption.

And who believe, as we do, that responsible businesses and young people can come together to create a healthy, prosperous, fulfilling society beyond consumerism.

Chris Large is Senior Partner at Global Action Plan.

References:

[1] McManus, S., Bebbington, P., Jenkins, R., Brugha, T. (2017) Mental Health and Wellbeing in England: Adult Psychiatry Morbidity Survey 2014. [Online] Accessed at: http://digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB21748 (on the 02.04.2018)
Mental Health Foundation. (2018) Stress: Are We Coping? Research Report for Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20 May, 2018). London: Mental Health Foundation. Accessed at: www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/stress-are-we-coping on the (14.05.2018)
[2] Sheldon, K.M. and Lyubomirsky, S. (2006) Achieving sustainable gains in happiness: Change your actions, not your circumstances. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7:55!86
Kidd, A. (2017). In a world of less economic growth and material consumption – how might we prosper? A behavioural study. The Prospectory [Online] Accessed at: https://theprospectory.files.wordpress.com/2017/12/flourishing-research-report.pdf on the (26.06.18)
Niemiec, C.P., Ryan, R.M. & Deci, E.L., (2010). The Path Taken: Consequences of Attaining Intrinsic and Extrinsic Aspirations in Post-College Life. Social Sciences, 73(3): 291–306.
Ryan, R. & Deci, E., (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation. American Psychologist, 55(1): 68–78. Available at: http://doi.apa.org/getdoi.cfm?doi=10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.68.
[3] One in three girls and young women say they compare themselves to celebrities most of the time or frequently. Girl Guides. (2016). Girls' Attitudes Survey. [Online] Accessed at www.girlguiding.org.uk/social-action-advocacy-and-campaigns/research/girls-attitudes-survey/ (on the 01/10/17)
Wallis, J., (2015). The Effects of Social Media on the Body Satisfaction of Adolescent and Young Adult Females. (Ed.M, Kansas State University). Available at: http://krex.k-state.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/2097/18945/JuliaWallis2015.pdf?sequence=2 (on the 22.01.2018)
Kalnes, K. (2013). Influence of Social Media Use on Adolescent Females’ Perceptions of Their Body Image. (Ed.D., Walden University). ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2013. 3591721
[4] Smithers, R. (2015). UK Gym Membership Spending Up By 44 Per Cent. The Guardian [Online] Accessed at: www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/aug/18/uk-gym-membership-spending-up-by-44-per-cent on the (26.06.18)