UN International Youth Day: An Excellent Opportunity for Character?

Young people have an important role to play as partners in today’s global society and in leading the world of tomorrow. International Youth Day, founded by the United Nations (UN), is held annually and celebrates the accomplishments of the world’s young people and aims to encourage them to actively contribute towards making their local communities and the world a better place.

International Youth Day remains an excellent opportunity to engage young people in the issues that they currently face, encourage them to reflect on their character, and develop their virtues. It also aims to bring the issues that concern young people to the forefront of the international community. Since 2001, each International Youth Day has had a theme for discussion to encompass a range of issues that affect young people today. There are a striking number of people and organised groups that partake in the campaign globally, but what stands out more is the excellent opportunity that this offers those who are seeking to enhance the character of young people across the world.

In the framework for the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, there are four main classes of virtue: moral, intellectual, civic, and performance. The UN International Youth Day has made a contribution to the development of these four classes of virtues in young people since 2001. In recent years for instance, there has been emphasis on encouraging civic engagement (2015), getting youth to think about the impact that they can have through being active in their local communities and how they can engage in some form of volunteering within the wider community to create a positive effect, inspiring them to become good and proactive citizens.

There have also been themes emphasising the need to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable consumption and production, instilling young people with an awareness of the social issues that surround poverty (2016). The campaign placed emphasis on moral virtues, such as being compassionate for those less fortunate than ourselves, and on being responsible with resources. Similarly, in 2017, the campaign had a focus on building peace (2017), encouraging the moral virtues of tolerance and understanding.

This year’s theme is focused on creating safe spaces for young people. The campaign aims to promote youth engagement by exploring the role of safe spaces in contributing to dialogue, freedom of speech/expression, and mutual respect. Although this sounds like it will be focused on moral virtues, the focus of these safe spaces is in the context of the whole community for the benefit of all. The discussions about safe spaces are on four major topics: civic, public, digital, and physical spaces.

People around the world are invited to partake in events that focus on one or more of these topic areas, and there remains great potential for developing virtues and character in young people across the world.



Jason Metcalfe is a Research Associate at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, University of Birmingham

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