Do young people feel they are taking risks when they state their beliefs?


Exposing your engagement in digital and/or physical spaces sometimes involves taking risks. Some respondents tell us that they “put their reputation on the line” with their classmates, friends, teachers or parents. The results of our study help to understand how these risks can interfere in the lives of some people.


Our study showed otherwise! Exposing engagement in digital and/or physical spaces may involve taking reputational risks. The results of our study help to understand how these risks can interfere in the lives of some people.

The engaged people we interviewed told us about the different risks they feel they are taking:

1. Physical risks, which concern bodily harm during events.

2. Moral risks, which are moral intimidations such as teasing, insults or stigmatization.

3. Reputational risks, which relate to situations where young people risk damaging their reputation and losing credibility in front of certain people.

The engagement process can sometimes be experienced as a test and not just as a source of fulfillment. Note, moreover, that this feeling of risk-taking is not felt by all those engaged in ecology. It concerns only a part of our respondents; and, perhaps, some of you too?

The risks in the face of ones close circle

When a person shows his engagement or expresses his opinions in favour of ecology, it can happen that he goes up against a conflict or value judgments from those around him.

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Conflicts can arise when the ideas defended by the person involved are not shared by all and a lively debate arises. Value judgments may also arise. By exposing his engagement, the individual can sometimes feel shame or fear. A person who apprehends the gaze of others can be fearful. There is also the fear of losing friends because of one’s ecological convictions. Finally, we can see that engagement can sometimes lead to judgments, conflicts and for the person involved strong negative emotions such as shame or fear, can arise.

Paroles de jeunes

Here are the words of Adrien and Léo, which illustrate this idea well:

“Q: Have you ever been afraid to tell someone about your ecological beliefs?

A: “Well, typically between friends sometimes, especially at the beginning, when you broach the subject it can be tense because there is this gap in knowledge about the subject and activism that can be different from the people facing you who have their own prism on these subjects. And, the risk is to appear a little too militant. For me, there are times… This year, in high school, I have a friend who had just come out of police custody where he’d experienced police brutality. I was shocked, but it was hard to find people to talk to about it in his circle of friends, without being like “but wait, what’s your life then”, because it’s tough, you get done like crazy…

Adrien, 16 years old, eco-engaged

Q: What would be the risks of flaunting your ecological commitment in front of everyone?

A: “Social downgrading. It’s one of the biggest worries, but now I have… my social circle is really focused on Youth For Climate so I don’t have that worry too much anymore. The way other people look at you, the fact that people don’t want to talk to you anymore, for me that’s the biggest worry.”

Léo, 15 years old, eco-engaged

The risks in the face of authority figures

The engaged people we met also mentioned the presence of risks in the face of three different authority figures.

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  1. A delicate situation may arise with the teacher. Faced with this figure of the teacher, some of our respondents mentioned the fear of expressing their opinions about the environment. This fear is linked, according to their statements, to an inequality of power due to the status of the teacher. They mention in particular the risk for their schooling (school records and grades) as well as the risk of damaging their relationships and interactions in the class (see the example of Alban in “young people’s words”).
  2. Our respondents mention this fear of not being able to get a role in the future if the recruiter finds old posts in which their political and/or ecological opinions appear. By becoming aware of this risk, some are even ready to spend hours erasing all the digital traces of their engagement: posts, likes, comments,… (see Martial’s words in the “young people’s words” section).
  3. Finally, young people tell us about taking risks with the police. During collective actions such as civil disobedience, pickets and demonstrations, activists sometimes clash with law enforcement. For some of our respondents, this constitutes taking a risk as they expose themselves to arrest and physical violence (see the example of Elisa).

Beyond this possible physical confrontation with the police, according to our respondents, online surveillance also constitutes risk-taking in the face of law enforcement. Some engaged people seem to be concerned about being “flagged” by the authorities as “tree-huggers” and aware that this may harm them in the future.

Words from young people

“Someone who has more power than me, it can be unsettling (…) they can lower our grade, and they could, so we didn’t get into the debate, we answered calmly to keep the status quo (…) It’s annoying, just because this man is an adult and has a certain position in the school institution in which I am, I cannot express my opinions. It’s very frustrating, because we don’t know how the person can react and use their power (…) I couldn’t do anything about it”

Alban, 16 years old, eco-engaged

“I figure that could be blamed on me. Let’s admit that in a few years I will need to look for a job and if we go to look on my Instagram account and we see that, it may offend. But, I’m also in a reflective perspective by telling myself that this is me, this is who I am, this is my account, my struggles, my values so I’m willing to sacrifice almost everything for this so to From there I’m willing to sacrifice almost everything.”

Martial, 17 years old

“There was the group of protesters who were picketing outside. They were the ones who would be confronted first by the riot police. And, there are other alternative groups, those who are freeskiing, those are the ones who make sure everything runs smoothly, who talk to people in the Apple Store, with the managers, with the people passing by outside who are wondering what is going on. We also have the medics, who are there if there is a problem, if we get gassed, if there are injuries, they are the ones who take care of that during protests “

Elisa, 16 years old

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