In light of the upcoming federal election, Michael Knight - "adolescentologist" and founder of Peer Power - raises some interesting points in an article examining the interest of teenagers in the process of democracy and who governs the nation.

His article, entitled 'Teens may seem self-centred but democracy is at their core' was published in the Courier-Mail this month.

Below is a copy of Mr Knight's article.


With the recent announcement of a Federal election, comes the question of whether the incumbent will stay in power or whether the opposition will win a majority and take power.

As someone who spends his days working with teenagers, I wondered whether the average teenager cared about government, its various forms and what role they can play in the whole decision-making process?

After briefly thinking about these two ideas, it would be plausible to conclude that they have little in common - which would be true if one buys into stereotypes and sound bites.

Like a frog in a pot, we can easily lose perspective. 

True, Government and politicians can be easy targets for complaints especially given the sound bite news cycle. However before we take another pot shot at our chosen form of government, let us not forget the very form of government we can be so displeased with allows for her citizens to freely express such opinions.

It was the former Prime Minister of England, Churchill who said of democracy, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

Now consider the average teenager in Australia and their attitude to government? Would these two ideas be held in the same sentence?

Given a stereotype of the larrikin Aussie teenager as, laconic, pleasure seeking, narcissists or anarchists I would find myself leaning towards the notion that they could not care less about government – but I would be wrong.

In Peer Power’s 2011 survey of 5,000 teenagers, ‘Adolesecentology’ we asked if they take an interest in how our country is governed? I was surprised to learn that 43% agreed with this statement, and 39% were neutral about this, only 18% disagreed.

Of more interest was that over half of all students surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that democracy really does give the common person power to make significant decisions in how our country is run.

Herein lies the danger of stereotypes and sound bites. They may come over as satisfying evidence to support my disposition or I can use this apparent evidence to ‘join me on the bandwagon of my own uncertainty’ (apologies to Taylor Mali Declarative Sentence).

However, beyond the stereotype and sound bite I discovered one of the colorations within the survey showed that those students who do take an interest in government reported having strong core values and could articulate those values. Hardly laconic, pleasure seeking narcissists or anarchists, but capable, thinking, intelligent and articulate young people forming their worldviews and expressing them.

To my surprise and delight I for one came away from these findings encouraged to know that some teenagers not only care about the governing of our country but are and have formed core values which they are willing to express - a wonderful rite within democracy.

It is true that government at times does make decisions that leave their citizens scratching their head, nor wishing they had ticked the other box on the ballot paper.

It is true that a commonly held stereotype of teenagers is that they may be laconic, pleasure seeking narcissists or anarchists.

But to continue to hold these views would be to lose one’s perspective on what we discovered.

Democracy invites and welcomes the expression of opinions free from the threat of being silenced or imprisoned and many teenagers do care about government within Australia.

Whatever happens in the Federal election, we have a nation where many teenagers care, think and take an interest in how the country is governed.