It will probably come as little surprise that recent surveys have found the majority of adults in Europe think that international terrorism is the most pressing threat to the continent.
Though this is valuable information about what adults think, little is known about what children and young people perceive as the greatest threats to life and democracy in Europe.
The stereotypes of young people, particularly teenagers, are that they are disengaged from society, and not focused on national, let alone international, issues. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Young people’s views
For the last four years, our research group WISERDEducation has been surveying students at primary and secondary schools across Wales about aspects of their lives, education and perceptions of the wider world. In 2016 we asked almost 700 secondary school students (aged 13 to 18-years-old) what they considered to be “the most important problem facing Europe today”, to see whether their perceptions differed from adults’, and also whether views varied by age.
The students were given nine different problems to choose from: climate change, economic instability, international terrorism, poverty, war, availability of energy, population growth, spread of nuclear weapons and infectious diseases. The chart below shows the proportion of students who selected the five most popular options. The remaining options, grouped as “other”, were chosen by very few participants, under 20% across all year groups. The chart below also excludes those who answered “don’t know”.
International terrorism dominated as the greatest problem for Europe among our participants. But looking at different school year groups, a more nuanced picture emerged.
Of Year 9 students (13 to 14-years-old), 44% considered terrorism to be the biggest problem, but this rate fell to 33% of Year 11 students (15 to 16-years-old). For Year 13 students (17 to 18-years-old), the percentage who thought terrorism was the biggest problem was much lower, at 20%.