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Growing Up Is Hard To Do

Regardless of ethnicity the process of becoming an adult poses the same challenges for most New Zealand teenagers.

Research has shown that a group of Indian, Greek, Maori and European teenagers all face common pressures. “All young people are involved in a common education system, and the demands of acquiring knowledge and skills to participate in society are of more significance in the transition to adulthood than the maintenance of cultural distinctiveness,” said research leader Dr Theresa Sawicka.

This is just one of many discoveries that has been made about how young people in New Zealand become adults and what part their family situation, parenting and their membership of larger communities play in the process. The research has been carried out at Victoria University and is an investment of the Public Good Science Fund.

Over 700 Wellington students and their parents were surveyed and just over 100 interviewed. The age of the young people was between 14 and 25.

One assumption that researchers started out with was that different ethnic groups would make different transitions into adulthood.

However, “preliminary findings confirmed that ethnicity is not a strong determiner of the path to adulthood. New Zealand’s larger social and cultural world place economic pressures on young adults, to gain qualifications and find employment. These are the predominate influences in all young peoples lives”. Says Dr Sawicka

“Children must adopt to, and compete in, English speaking schools and move on to English-speaking work places, achieving adulthood as members of the larger society”

Another finding was that the government provides a confusing number of indicators to say when you are considered to be an adult.” For instance parent’s income is still used to assess a person’s right to income support in tertiary education until they are 25, seven years after reaching the age of citizenship and five years after being released from their parent’s guardianship” says researcher James Urry.

“Not only are young people and their parents confused, but so are agents of the state as to when to set the age of adulthood,” says Dr Urry.

The research has been completed and a volume of papers on youth and ethnicity is in its trial stages.

“These findings are significant. Governments and non- governmental agencies and previous studies have tended to concentrate on the problems, rather then the common processes involved in the transition of young people into adults,” says Dr Sawicka.

“This study shows that the transition to adulthood in New Zealand is undergoing rapid transformation influenced by the economic pressures impacting on all social institutions. These transformations are changing our very concept of what and who a person is.”


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