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How connecting young people to their sense of rebellion, their values and their community can save the planet

This is the second post in a two-part series from Chris Large of Global Action Plan. Read the first here.

Our first blog explained how consumerism affects young people’s wellbeing.

We 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.

In this follow-up blog, we 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 we’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 cost very little and increase wellbeing levels while reducing the frequency of environmentally damaging activities and generating little to no environmental impact.

Young people in a GAP programmeWhy focus on young people? Because they are most vulnerable to consumerism’s harm, 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 the differing predispositions, attitudes and age ranges that make up the youth population in the UK and is built on established theory. We find hope in the following interventions:

Connecting young people to their sense of rebellion, aiding their efforts to reclaim control of their purchasing decisions rather being continually coerced by international corporations into buying the latest ‘look’ or gadget. We can channel activism against incessant advertising and social media intrusion by demonstrating that consumerism giants seek to hijack their thoughts. We can call a halt on 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.

Connecting young people to their values, teaching practices that will deliver personal wellbeing, and the wellbeing of others and the planet, which is more important to Generation Z 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. 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.

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, 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 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 needs 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. A fully referenced version of this blog is at www.globalactionplan.org.uk/three-ways-young-people-can-fight-consumerism. 

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