Story: Youth organisations
Page 3 – Youth groups over time
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 Baden-Powell first 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
The 1930s depression saw meagre government assistance for youth movements. Memberships lapsed as families could not afford subscriptions and uniforms. Recurrent polio outbreaks that closed schools and public facilities also kept children at home from youth groups.
During the Second World War there were fewer adult volunteers, and limitations on imports of regalia, uniforms and publications. War work, in keeping with the citizenship and service elements of youth groups, became a strong focus. For example Guides and Brownies made large camouflage nets for the army.
Successive governor generals and their wives were patrons of Scouts, Guides and other youth organisations. Governments also supported their work by providing annual grants and broadcasting time, and including them in official functions. Royal or official visits were welcomed by clean, well-dressed Brownies, Scouts or 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. This made 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, keeping them within 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 seen as uncool. Some organisations developed programmes to attract teenagers. For example, senior Scouts and Rovers were phased out and replaced with 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. For example from the late 1970s it ran self-defence classes for girls.
In the first decade of the 2000s the Boys’ and Girls’ brigades introduced more casual options, which were popular. The Boys’ Brigade partly rebranded under the name ICONZ Adventure in 2004. This offered adventure-based activities after school or on weekends for 8 to 11 year olds. Uniforms consisedt of a T-shirt and a baseball cap – a far cry from traditional Boys’ Brigade formal uniform. The Girls’ Brigade followed by introducing their new programme, iconz4girlz, in 2009.
In 1999 the Girl Guides changed their name to Guides New Zealand, and in 2007 changed it again to GirlGuiding New Zealand. In 2010 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.