Story: Youth organisations

Page 3. Youth groups over time

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Conscription of cadets

One of the earliest challenges to male youth organisations came when the Defence Act 1909 required boys aged 12 to 18 years to belong to either the junior or senior cadets at school. Scout numbers dropped from 15,000 in August 1911 to 8,000 in December. In 1912 Robert Baden-Powell visited New Zealand and the government acted on his recommendation that military training for boys under 14 should be dropped.

The product of empire

Youth organisations originated in Britain at the height of its empire. Badges, salutes, mottos, pledges, uniforms, parades, progression through ranks based on competency at practical tasks and terminology such as troops, patrols and battalions illustrate their patriotic and militaristic origins.

1930s and 1940s

During the 1930s depression government assistance for youth movements was meagre. Memberships lapsed as families could not afford subscriptions and uniforms. Recurrent polio outbreaks that closed schools and public facilities also kept children at home.

During the Second World War there were fewer adult volunteers, and limitations on imports of regalia, uniforms and publications. In keeping with the citizenship and service elements of youth groups, war work became a strong focus. Guides and Brownies, for example, made large camouflage nets for the army.

1950s expansion

Successive governors-general and their wives were patrons of Scouts, Guides and other youth organisations. Governments provided annual grants and radio time, and included them in official functions. Royal or official visitors were welcomed by clean, well-dressed Brownies, Scouts and Guides.

The 1950s saw strong growth in memberships. A post-war baby boom, peaking in 1961, put pressure on staffing and finances. Waiting lists became common. There were not enough trained adult volunteers and more women moved into the paid workforce, making it harder to hold traditional events like extended camps. The rise of teenage culture in the 1950s was disconcerting to the government and older generations. Youth organisations were encouraged to develop programmes that attracted teenagers to environments deemed conducive to high moral values.

1960s teenage memberships decline

In the 1960s youth organisations struggled to retain teenagers. They were perceived as conservative and uniforms were uncool. Some organisations developed programmes to attract teenagers. For example, senior Scouts and Rovers were phased out and replaced by a new section of Scouts called Venturers for 15 to 19 year olds. Handbooks were rewritten and uniforms updated. Despite this, teenage membership of the Scouts and Guides declined.

Rebranding and modernising

By the 1980s overall memberships were declining. Children and teenagers had more leisure choices. Youth organisations remained convinced that youth development mattered, yet their methods no longer captured or held as many recruits. Some, like the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), moved into personal development programmes and social justice. From the late 1970s, the YWCA ran self-defence classes for girls.

In the first decade of the 21st century the Boys’ and Girls’ brigades introduced more casual options, which were popular. In 2004 the Boys’ Brigade partly rebranded itself as ICONZ Adventure. This offered adventure-based activities after school or on weekends for 8 to 11 year olds. Uniforms consisted of a T-shirt and a baseball cap – a far cry from traditional Boys’ Brigade formal uniform. The Girls’ Brigade followed by introducing iconz4girlz in 2009.

The Girl Guides changed their name to Guides New Zealand in 1999, and to GirlGuiding New Zealand in 2007. In the 21st century marketing for the Guides and Scouts focused on adventure and personal development. Similarly, the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) focused more on values of caring, responsibility, respect and honesty, and accepted people regardless of their beliefs.

New youth initiatives

Youth mentoring

New strategies developed in the early 21st century to support youth and contribute to their personal development. One approach was a national youth mentoring programme. A network was established in 2000 to connect young people with mentors and provide advice, resources and training for those mentoring others. A website acts as hub for young people and mentors and there are regular national conferences that focus on issues confronting young people and strategies to support them. 

Ara Taiohi – supporting youth development

Ara Taiohi was established in 2010 to advance youth development by supporting a range of individuals and organisations working with young people. Ara means 'path' in Māori and 'taiohi' means young person. 

Ara Taiohi is a contemporary version of the National Youth Council set up in the 1960s as an umbrella organisation for those working with youth, including Scouts, Guides, Boys’ and Girls’ brigades. It became increasingly involved in youth advocacy and closed in 1989. Various national networks were set up and finally consolidated in Ara Taiohi – a network aimed at providing 'one voice’ for the youth sector. It organises an annual Youth Week campaign, biennial national wananga and regional workshops for those involved in youth development work. Ara Taiohi supports lesbian, gay, queer, trans, and bisexual youth through advising mainstream youth organisations on how they can provide safe and positive activities for all young people.

How to cite this page:

Helen Dollery, 'Youth organisations - Youth groups over time', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/youth-organisations/page-3 (accessed 21 November 2019)

Story by Helen Dollery, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 31 Jan 2019