The Po­lite Re­bel­lion of our young Kiwi school lead­ers

Eighty-four school lead­ers of­fer a snap­shot into a gen­er­a­tion for whom so­cial me­dia and so­cial is­sues de­mand they try to change the world. Pho­tos by Lawrence Smith.

Sunday Star-Times - - NEWS - by Josephine Franks and Brit­tany Keogh

When Jed Melvin charges up the rugby field, ball tucked un­der his arm, his fea­tures are staunch, deter­mined. It’s the phys­i­cal side he loves: ‘‘Body on body, just get­ting a hit in.’’

Flick through his Face­book and In­sta­gram pro­files and this is the side of the Orewa Col­lege head boy you’ll see. Ath­letic, con­fi­dent, play­ing sport, laugh­ing with mates.

Jed is one of 84 stu­dent lead­ers from 48 schools across Auck­land sur­veyed about their lives, goals and fears for

Po­lite Re­bel­lion –a Stuff in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a gen­er­a­tion of school-leavers.

They grew up on­line. Adults might use so­cial me­dia, they say, but older gen­er­a­tions just can’t un­der­stand what that con­stant pres­sure and con­nec­tion re­ally means.

They may not be will­ing to give up dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy – they can’t, re­ally, it’s their en­tire cul­tural cur­rency – but they’re acutely aware of the toll it’s tak­ing. For these teenagers, the stub­bornly high sui­cide rate isn’t just an­other grim statis­tic. It’s per­sonal.

Sev­eral of the sur­veyed stu­dents say nearly all of their peers have ex­pe­ri­enced men­tal health is­sues; 85 per cent say they’re ‘‘very con­cerned’’ about men­tal health and youth sui­cide and the re­main­ing 15 per cent are ‘‘some­what con­cerned’’.

Af­ter see­ing his mates grap­ple with their men­tal health, Jed knows what a what a dif­fer­ence it makes for young peo­ple – es­pe­cially guys – to have some­one to talk to, and he wants to be that per­son.

The 17-year-old plans to be a part time youth worker next year as he jug­gles an en­gi­neer­ing de­gree and a bur­geon­ing rugby ca­reer.

Cli­mate change and the en­vi­ron­ment is an­other of their big­gest wor­ries – 41 per cent say they’re very con­cerned, 52 per cent are some­what con­cerned and seven per cent are neu­tral.

They’re also ner­vous about leav­ing home. Only 26 per cent see them­selves liv­ing in Auck­land long term. Many an­tic­i­pate hav­ing to leave the city they love and have grown up in be­cause there’s no way they’ll be able to af­ford to live here.

While they say they love Auck­land’s di­ver­sity, many say ca­sual racism and prej­u­dice is an is­sue in the city.

These young lead­ers are pre­pared to tackle the things that worry, in­tim­i­date and scare them. They’re acutely aware of the prej­u­dice, in­er­tia and ig­no­rance that threat­ens their fu­tures. And some of them are an­gry.

Theirs is a mod­ern in­sur­gency. They’re more likely to or­gan­ise on­line than in the streets. They will win ar­gu­ments with rea­son, rather than rage. Theirs is a Po­lite Re­bel­lion.

Pa­p­a­toe­toe, South Auck­land has been Tuitofa Aloua’s home for all of her 18 years. The area’s di­ver­sity has al­ways made her feel ac­cepted, she says. As the head girl of Pa­p­a­toe­toe High School, a mem­ber of the lo­cal church youth group and a rep­re­sen­ta­tive on the Otara-Pa­p­a­toe­toe Youth Coun­cil, she’s a leader whom young peo­ple in the com­mu­nity look up to. But hav­ing earned a Pa­cific Aca­demic Ex­cel­lence Schol­ar­ship – and a spot in the Uni­ver­sity of Auck­land halls of res­i­dence – she’s about to leave home to study health science. While Tuitofa is a high achiever, she’s con­cerned about com­ing up against Auck­land’s racist un­der­belly – that she might not get the same op­por­tu­ni­ties as her Pakeha peers. ‘‘Where I come from, my iden­tity, might be a bar­rier,’’ she says.

Orewa Col­lege head boy Jed Melvin, 17, says a cul­ture of com­par­i­son fu­elled by so­cial me­dia takes a toll on teenagers’ men­tal health. And what’s mak­ing mat­ters worse is that older peo­ple are si­lenc­ing his gen­er­a­tion. The young rugby player wants to en­cour­age his peers – es­pe­cially guys – to speak out about men­tal health.

Jesse Tuhaka, a stu­dent leader at Or­mis­ton Se­nior Col­lege doesn’t yet know who she is. ‘‘I’m scared of be­ing an in­di­vid­ual be­cause a lot of what I do is guided by my par­ents,’’ the 18-year-old says. ‘‘My par­ents, my job and my school ex­pect a lot from me. I have to work to find how to bal­ance that so I don’t, you know, ex­plode or some­thing."

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