Kōrero: 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
Te āhua nui: Jane Findlay, from St Mary's Pippins group, samples a Girl Guide biscuit

Story Summary

Ngā whakaahua

Early youth organisations

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

The YMCA was the first New Zealand youth group. It was set up in 1855. It was followed by the Boys’ Brigade, which focused more on physical and military training. The first girls’ organisation was the YWCA, which 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 was established in 1908. A girls’ branch, the Girl Peace Scouts, was set up in 1909. This merged with Girl Guides when they started 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 many teenagers saw them as old-fashioned and uncool. Since the 1980s membership for all ages has continued to decline.

Modern youth organisations

Some groups, like the Girls’ and Boys’ brigades, rebranded and became more casual. The YWCA continued to offer hostel accommodation but focused on the advancement and empowerment of young women. The YMCA also offered accommodation but focused on support for families and communities, as well as young people. The organisations also became less religious.

Newer youth organisations promoted adventure and outdoor challenges. 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. Ara Taiohi (literally, a pathway to and from young people), founded in 2010 as a network connecting those working with young people, champions a variety of youth development organisations and activities. 

Youth hostels

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

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Helen Dollery, 'Youth organisations', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/youth-organisations (accessed 23 October 2019)

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