news 16 January 2020

The Nation’s best character hacks for teens

– DofE survey of more than 4,000 people reveals the essential activities every teenager should do

– Research finds teenagers feel they aren’t given enough opportunities to build confidence, resilience or independence – and education professionals would like more support

51% of teenagers have never had a part-time job and 43% have never stood up for something they believe in

– The DofE calls on Government to ensure that all schools are adequately resourced for character education, particularly for disadvantaged young people

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE) has published a definitive list of ‘character building’ activities and experiences that every teenager should have the chance to take part in before leaving school – and called on the Government to do more to help them do so.

The Experience List: 25 of the best character hacks for teens is a checklist of 25 experiences that can build teenagers’ confidence, independence and resilience, supporting their positive mental health and wellbeing and standing them in good stead for success in the workplace and beyond.

To build the list, the DofE surveyed more than 4,000 people including members of the public, business leaders, education professionals, parents and young people. The Experience List is panel-approved and backed by top employers including Heathrow Airport, Barclays LifeSkills and RSM.

The DofE conducted the research in response to increasing evidence that young people’s job prospects and wellbeing can be boosted by developing key character traits, and that education professionals want to support this.

The new research, by the DofE, shows that:

– 44% of teenagers surveyed don’t think they’re given enough opportunities to build confidence, resilience, or independence

– 52% of 14-18 year olds have never volunteered for their community

– 20% have never been for a walk or hike in the countryside

– 51% have never worked a part-time job

– 43% have never campaigned for something they believed in

– In turn, 72% of employers surveyed think school leavers are not equipped with the right skills to succeed in employment.

‘Digital detox’, ‘spend time getting to know an older person’ and ‘learn to manage your own money’ are some of the more serious recommendations sitting alongside fun experiences such as ‘go dancing’, ‘dress for yourself, not others’ and ‘go to a festival or gig’. Reflecting the rise in young activists, such as Greta Thunberg, other suggestions include ‘campaign for something you believe in’, and ‘try vegetarianism or veganism’.

The Experience List recognises the current challenges faced by young people and aims to inspire them to overcome these. 79% of young people think strength of character enables them to better manage mental health problems and 44% of adults surveyed admit that, as a teenager, they wouldn’t have coped with the pressures facing young people today. A further 38% acknowledge that there are now fewer opportunities to build character, compared to their own experience growing up.

With personal development currently a key focus in education following introduction of the new Ofsted ‘character’ framework in 2019, the list comes at a time when 23% of education professionals surveyed by the DofE said they don’t know how to help build their pupils’ character and 91% would welcome additional support and ideas on how to do so.

As it launches The Experience List, the DofE is calling on Government to ensure that all schools are adequately resourced for character education, particularly for disadvantaged young pupils. The DofE is asking Government to formalise The Experience List, as it has for primary school pupils with My Activity Passport.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award supports all young people, from all backgrounds, to broaden their horizons, challenge themselves and develop their talents, skills and self-awareness. Young people can tailor their programme to reflect their own interests, making DofE the most personalised and accessible personal development offer for teens in the UK today. The breadth and variety of activities also makes it an ideal way for young people to experience many of the activities on The Experience List.

James Caan, entrepreneur and former Dragon, backs The Experience List and said:

“I had no qualifications when I started out and part of my success came from developing my ability to do things like communicate, problem solve and work as part of a team – these skills are essential in the world of work. The Experience List is a great starting point for young people to work out the best ways to develop their character and enhance their soft skills, which ultimately will improve their job prospects and help them to become more well-rounded individuals.”

Ruth Marvel, Chief Executive of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, said:

“The research shows us that many teenagers aren’t getting the chance to take part in activities that will help them build confidence, resilience and independence, despite teachers being keen to help them do so. The Experience List is an accessible, fun and inspirational tool to help young people identify, embrace and enjoy activities that will support them on their journey to adulthood.

“Many of the activities suggested by the public can be done as part of your DofE, and with 93% of DofE Award holders saying taking part in the DofE boosted their employability, it is a brilliant way for teenagers to build work-ready skills. Whether taking part in the DofE or not, all young people should have access to the kind of experiences on the list.”

Paula Stannett, Chief People Officer at Heathrow Airport and panel member, said:

“We’re huge advocates of encouraging young people to develop their character outside of the classroom, and The Experience List offers a range of activities that can help do that. When recruiting, it’s life experiences that often stand out over academic qualifications, and it’s the people with strength of character that settle in best to the world of work. I’m sure many employers would welcome formalisation of The Experience List. It’s so vital that young people develop their character and soft skills.”

Nicola Foyle, a teacher and DofE Manager at High Grange School and panel member, said:

“I’ve been a teacher for 11 years and know only too well how important it is for young people to develop their character, particularly those with additional needs such as autism. It would be beneficial to see The Experience List formalised by Government, so that secondary school teachers receive the same support as primary school teachers. With personal development being a priority in education at the moment, there’s no better time to instigate conversation about the types of experiences and activities that can help young people to build their character, resilience and ultimately boost their job prospects.”

The Experience List and its activities


About the research     

In September 2019, Censuswide polled:

– 1,000 14-18 year olds

– 2,091 adults age 19+

In September 2019, the DofE polled:

– 1,423 DofE Award holders

– 166 education professionals

– 25 business leaders

Additional research

– 59% of DofE Award holders say the DofE improved their physical and mental health

– 73% of DofE Award holders say the DofE improved their resilience, 66% said it improved their confidence and 66% said it improved their independence

– 36% of business leaders said Greta Thunberg has the most employable traits and skills, with 68% of managers saying it is her strength of character that stands out

– When recruiting young people, 36% of business leaders say that working well in a team is the most important criteria, compared to 12% who say technical skills

– 78% of people think their most ‘character-building’ moments happened outside of the classroom

The panel

The panel is made up of the following individuals:

– Paula Stannett, Chief People Officer at Heathrow Airport

– Nicola Foyle, a teacher, ASDAN Co-Ordinator and DofE Manager at High Grange School in Derby

– Ruth Marvel, Chief Executive at The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award

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