Published On: Tue, Mar 13th, 2018

How does activism impact young adults?

Students at schools and universities across the country will leave their classrooms as part of the national school walkout Wednesday morning. The 17-minute action is intended to honor the 17 victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida last month and to protest for stronger gun laws.

That kind of activism could be good for young adults, according to recent research published in Child Development.

Psychologist and CBS News contributor Lisa Damour, who wrote about the study in her latest New York Times article, said the findings showed “teenagers who participate in activism go on to higher levels of education and higher incomes than teenagers who don’t.”

“The really remarkable thing about the study is that this was true even when they accounted for those teenagers’ early grades in school and their parents’ education levels, which are usually the factors that drive later success. So it doesn’t prove that activism actually leads to high achievement, but it makes a very strong case for it,” Damour said.

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School meet with Florida state legislators in Tallahassee

Students and their chaperones from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, wearing blue t-shirts, stand in the gallery above the Florida Senate in Tallahassee, Florida, February 21, 2018.

Colin Hackley / REUTERS

Young adults who get involved in civic causes could develop professional skills, get plugged into social networks, and help develop “their beliefs in their own capacities,” Damour said.

While some may question what kind of impact a 17-minute school walk-out could have, Damour said “if it plugs them into ongoing engagement, if it makes them think about broad social causes, that’s good for teenagers.”

The study looked at three forms of civic engagement: voting, volunteering and activism. While volunteering and voting were “favorably associated” with mental health, activism was associated with “more health-risk behaviors and not associated with mental health,” according to the report.

“So the researchers in explaining that, they had a couple of ideas. One was, they said, you know, historically activists have sometimes belonged to counter-culture group where maybe risky behavior is more typical. That may be less true when now, the students tomorrow are expressing in many ways a widely-held view. They also said that activism is frustrating, and that people who are heavily engaged in activism may become sort of frustrated and turn to smoking or drinking,” Damour said. 

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