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'Kidulthood': lessons from managing travel risks with 18-25 year olds

Group of young, southeast Asian men and women posing while drinking in a bar.

Universities and gap year organisations that facilitate young people travelling, or volunteering, overseas have observed a decline in young adult’s capabilities, independence and resilience in recent years. As we advise these organisations on their security risk management, we are frequently asked to explain why this is happening and how they should respond.

When a person reaches the age of majority, they are legally considered an adult. As an adult, it is assumed that the person has legal authority over themselves, their acts, and their decisions. It is the legal acknowledgment of adulthood and the point at which a person can be tried as a "adult" in court. The majority age in most nations is 18. There are a few countries where it is 15 and others where it is 21, but the majority are between the ages of 18 and 21. This is not to be confused with other ages, such as the age of sexual consent, the age of drinking, or the age of voting. All of these factors can affect the age of majority.

There is a lot of debate right now in the media among researchers about whether this legal age is acceptable to consider someone an ‘adult’. More evidence and study is being published that suggests brain maturity extends well beyond adolescence (13-19). According to research, young people's decision-making and brain development do not fully mature until they are between the ages of 23 and 25. This wouldn't be a problem if brain maturity (particularly in the pre-frontal cortex) wasn't so crucial to impulse control and risky behaviour. Young adults, according to Sandra Aamodt, author of Welcome to Your Child's Brain, are "more interested in entering uncertain circumstances." Or, to put it another way, increased risk-taking. She further says that rental car businesses are ahead of the curve in recognising this which is why they won’t rent cars to individuals under the age of 25. Or, if they do, will rent them at significantly higher rates. According to another psychologist, statistics show that most of accidents caused by young drivers are down to bad judgement and decision-making.

Child psychologists have coined the term "kidulthood" to describe the period between the ages of 18 and 25. Child psychologists in the United Kingdom have even been issued given a new directive that the age range they work with is being extended from 0-18 to 0-25. Traditional adult responsibilities such as marriage, work, and parenthood are also being put off by those in their 'kidult' years. According to Beatriz Luna, a psychologist, this encourages youngsters to prolong adolescence, which is associated with increasing hazards, because 18-25 year olds enjoy the independence of adulthood but lack the mental maturity to completely manage it.

This creates a challenging situation for universities and gap year organisations that work with students taking gap years and volunteering, as well as undergraduates. They are working with adults, or those who have reached the age of majority, according to the law. These students are frequently on their own for the first time, and they have particular expectations regarding their rights and responsibilities. At the same time, they are more likely to take risks with less care for the outcome and show little consideration for the authority parameters that an organisation may have for them. In general, this is associated with a high prevalence of mental health difficulties (such as anxiety, eating disorders, and self-harm), a lack of resilience, and an inability to overcome adversity. Organisations have also stated that there is a rising expectation that an individual's difficulties would be addressed even if it means sacrificing the group's overall goals.

While we're probably years away from changing the law on the age of majority, there are immediate, practical ramifications for team and fieldwork leaders that engage with 18-25 year olds. What can organisations do to ensure that they are effectively collaborating with persons in this age group to minimize risky behaviour and fulfill their duty of care?

In our work, we’ve noticed 5 examples that organisations use as part of their risk management to foster successful travel experiences with 18-25 year olds:

Pre-travel resourcing:

Successful organisations have carefully produced resources for fieldwork and team leaders to deal with the many difficulties they confront. This could include setting up a counselling hotline for students to call if they have mental health problems while away from home. This eliminates the need for team leaders to function as counsellors, something they may not be able or willing to do.

Security training for the threats that teams may face while travelling is also provided. For many young individuals who have never been overseas, receiving training in international travel security is essential. Safer Edge offers a 4 hour on-demand, self-paced International Travel Security e-learning course that can assist you in getting your teams trained.

Draw red lines and follow them:

If 18-25 year olds are adults, treat them as such...but with clearer and more serious communication about the consequences of undesirable risk behaviour than older individuals may receive. Team leaders will want to make sure they have the support of their organisation or department, but if the groups have been told that certain acts or behaviours will result in them being sent home, this must be followed up on if such actions or behaviours occur. Very few things focus the mind of ‘kidults’ more than seeing that their actions have real repercussions and that team leaders are serious about following through.

Prepare team leaders:

Anyone in a position of leadership should be well-versed in how 18-25-year-olds function, behave and the various difficulties with which they may be confronted. If leaders aren't well-informed, they'll can be frustrated and overwhelmed by the sheer number of issues they have to deal with, as well as the level of immaturity and unexpected risk-taking. Helping them realise what they're up against could mean the difference between keeping employees and volunteers and having to hire new ones year after year.

Know the legislation in your destination:

Many young individuals have never given any thought to the rules of their own country, let alone the laws of the country they are visiting. They may believe that because they are British, the laws in their home country will apply to them wherever they travel. They may believe that being British affords them special license or will get them out of trouble. This is not the case and this needs to be explicitly stated in order to avoid running afoul of the law while travelling abroad.

'Common Sense' is not a security strategy

When people become leaders of groups or organisations, their actions are informed by a wealth of life experience, and it's easy to overlook that young people don't know what they don't know. They'll need a passport to go to another country, for example. Or, that flip flops are unsuitable footwear for an archaeology dig. Or, that sunburn and sunstroke can be fatal. It's critical to deliver more information, or information that appears to be "common sense", to young people.

While working with young people can be challenging it is also incredibly rewarding. Keeping in mind these 5 best practices will help any organisation better work with young people. If you need assistance preparing a team for a trip or training for team leaders send us an email and we’d be happy to have a conversation based on what we’ve learned:


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