Story: Youth organisations

Most youth organisations began as Christian groups aimed at producing good citizens. They provided fun and fellowship while teaching good morals and practical skills. Their massive popularity was challenged in the 20th century by the rise of teenage culture.

Story by Helen Dollery
Main image: Jane Findlay, from St Mary's Pippins group, samples a Girl Guide biscuit

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Early youth organisations

The first youth organisations were Christian groups aimed at 12 to 18 year olds. They were designed to turn youths into good citizens and keep them out of trouble. Their popularity meant that groups for younger children soon followed.

The YMCA was the first New Zealand youth group. It opened in 1855. It was followed by the Boys’ Brigade, which focused more on physical and military training. The first girls’ organisation was the YWCA. It provided accommodation and support for young working women. Other girls’ organisations taught domestic skills and Bible studies.

Scouts became the most popular youth group for boys when it opened in 1908. A girls’ branch, the Girl Peace Scouts, opened the next year. This merged with Girl Guides when they opened in 1932. Like Scouts, Girl Guides focused on practical skills and the outdoors.

Challenges to youth groups

In the 20th century youth organisations faced many challenges – competition from compulsory boys’ military training, a lack of money during the 1930s depression, fewer adult volunteers during the wars, more women working, and the development of teenage culture.

While youth groups were extremely popular in the 1950s, by the 1960s teenagers saw them as old-fashioned and uncool. In the 1980s membership for all ages was declining.

Modern youth organisations

Some groups, like the Girls’ and Boys’ brigades, rebranded and became more casual. The YWCA turned to personal development and social work, and the YMCA focused on the whole community. They also became less religious.

Newer youth organisations promoted adventure. Outward Bound ran outdoors courses which included spending a night alone in the bush. The Spirit of Adventure Trust took young people on sailing ships.

Youth hostels

The Youth Hostels Association was formed in 1932 by a Christchurch woman who had seen hostels while travelling overseas. The first were run by volunteers, and those staying there had to do chores. Now youth hostels are part of a huge international network providing cheap places to stay.

How to cite this page:

Helen Dollery, 'Youth organisations', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 11 December 2018)

Story by Helen Dollery, published 5 May 2011, updated 1 Aug 2017