New research shows that children wrongly believe their peers do not share their compassionate values, which deters them from acting on social and environmental issues.
The six-month research project, developed by Persil and Global Action Plan, highlighted a values-perception gap with young people – something that has long been identified in adults.
In a survey taken by 916 children between the ages of 7-18 in the UK and Turkey, only 14% prioritised self-interest values over compassionate values, whereas more than one in three (38%) believed other young people would prioritise self-interest. This jumps to one in two (48%) for 16-18 year olds.
Analysis of the research found that when young people do not think others are compassionate they act less compassionately themselves, their wellbeing suffers and they feel more worried about the future.
The survey also showed two thirds (66%) felt they cared even more about other peopl since Covid-19.
The organisations said the findings have “powerful implications for the education system”.
They are calling on school leaders to sign up for an event where they will launch the research in the form of a whitepaper titled ‘Generation Action: How to unleash the potential of children and young people to take positive action and create a better world for all’.
This research reveals the importance of giving young people the opportunities and confidence to come together on the things they care about – Sonja Graham, Global Action Plan
The event will bring together academics to explore how young people’s perception of compassionate values impacts how they act on issues they care about. They will also discuss the implications for PSHE and how young people are encouraged to engage in social programmes.
The organisations said addressing the misperception that humans are inherently self-interested “could be key in efforts to promote and sustain youth action on social and environmental issues, and subsequently the wellbeing of young people”.
Sonja Graham, co-CEO at Global Action Plan, said: “This research reveals the importance of giving young people the opportunities and confidence to come together on the things they care about.
“Through the Persil Dirt Is Good Project, their actions will be made highly visible. As well as seeing the impacts of their own actions, they will witness other young people like themselves changing the world for the better too. They will see that they are in the majority, and that we are united in compassion when it comes to tackling the world’s most pressing challenges.”
Sarah Hannafin, policy advisor at the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT), added: “This research highlights a catch-22 whereby young people are choosing not to reveal their compassion for fear of not fitting in.
“This means that they take part in social and environmental action less than they would like to – to the detriment of their own wellbeing and their impact on the world around them. It is vital that we provide opportunities for them work together and see that others are just as compassionate as they are.”