Selfless Swampy usurps lazy Kevin

Changing face of British youth: More altruistic, more fashion- conscious - but with less spare cash in their pockets
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Today's adolescents have more in common with Swampy, the eco-warrior, than with Harry Enfield's creation Kevin the Teenager, with half of young people volunteering or campaigning on issues they believe in, according to new research.

Rather than the typical negative image of self-centered lazy teens - the so-called slacker generation - a strong streak of altruism is seen in Nineties' youth.

The Trust for the Study of Adolescents, a charitable organisation, surveyed more than a thousand 14- to 16-year-olds at three schools in Birmingham, Northumbria and on the South coast, interviewing in depth more than 100 pupils.

The researchers found more than half had done voluntary work which included helping the elderly, working as a first-aider, in a charity shop or as a youth worker. "Hardly a picture of an uninvolved, unconcerned generation," said Debi Roker, the chartered psychologist who carried out the survey.

As many as one in ten were members of campaigning organisations such as Amnesty International, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, as well as organisations which campaign against homelessness, zoos, world hunger, and landmines.

Nearly six out of ten had boycotted something because of where or how it was made. This included French goods because of nuclear testing in the Pacific, or products that were tested on animals.

"I think that sort of thing is really important ... I wanted to make a difference and do something," said one 15-year-old member of Amnesty. "I just thought, you know, I can do something ... I can offer them a chance to have things I take for granted," said a 16-year-old volunteer at Oxfam.

Nine out of ten young people said they gave money to charity and just under half had campaigned about something in their local area. Six out of ten had campaigned for a change in school rules or policies, including setting up a regular charity collection.

Many teenagers also translated their beliefs into action, with around one in six going on marches or rallies which protested about such things as nuclear weapons and landmines, or to support human rights.

A greater proportion of girls than boys said they were involved in voluntary work, but that, said Dr Roker, was because many boys did not define what they did as voluntary or were nervous of admitting some of their activities. One 15-year-old boy who regularly protested overnight against live-animal exports at Coventry airport, told his parents he was staying with friends so they would not be concerned for his safety.

"We are quite pleased with the results," said Dr Roker. "A significant number of young people were investing time and effort working with other people to campaign for things they believe in."

"I hate the way that everybody has a downer on young people," added one young volunteer. "I do my bit. I write letters about live-animal exports and try to get things changed ... I bet young people do more than adults."

Dr Roker added: "I think the idea of the slacker generation or the Kevin the Teenager myth is a stereotype which rarely exists and most young people would say that. They are more like Swampy than Kevin."

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