Adolescence is recognized as a distinct developmental stage that occurs between childhood and early adulthood.

There are approximately 2.47 million young people between 12 and 25 years living in Ontario footnote 5. This represents 18.3% of our province's overall population.

There are many characteristics that distinguish Ontario's youth today. Broadly, our young people are:

An ever more important share of Ontario's population: The proportion of young people in Ontario is declining. By 2036, youth aged 12 to 25 will make up 16% of the population. Indeed, the share of Ontario's working age population aged 15 to 64 is shrinking (from 69.3% in 2013 to 60.4% in 2036). These trends mean that Ontario's prosperity rests on the shoulders of a smaller share of the populationfootnote 6.

Well-educated: Ontario youth have high high-school completion ratesfootnote 7 and very high postsecondary graduation rates – the highest among the 30 developed countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Developmentfootnote 8. Our young people also have strong skills in emerging fields such as technology, and social enterprise.

Culturally and geographically diverse: Ontario is a large province that is home to one of the most multicultural and diverse populations in the world. More than one million of the province's young people 24 years and under – and nearly 26% of youth aged 13 to 24 – belong to a visible minority groupfootnote 9. Approximately 19% of youth aged 15 to 24 in Ontario are immigrants and 5.7% have just arrived in Canada in the past five yearsfootnote 10.

Young Ontarians also live in diverse communities across the province – including major cities, small towns, on reserves and in remote regions.

Technologically connected: The way young people spend their time and connect using technology and social media is changing the way they learn and process information, the nature of the relationships they have with friends and the ways in which they participate and express their opinions.

Looking for ways to be engaged: We know young people want to participate in decisions that will impact their lives. Overall, Ontarians aged 15 to 24 have higher rates of participation in community, cultural, recreational or school-related organizations and activities than the rest of the populationfootnote 15. In 2010, 58% of Ontario's youth aged 15 to 24 participated in volunteer activities, each contributing an average of 167 volunteer hours (that is an average of 127 hours more than the province's high school graduation requirement)footnote 16. At the same time, we know that there are many youth in Ontario who are disengaged from their communities. These youth may face barriers to participation or may not feel that there are enough opportunities that relate to their interests.

Preparing for challenging careers: Today's youth are likely to work many jobs in their lifetime and even have multiple careers. Increasingly, youth are developing a wider set of interpersonal and creative skills to help them succeed in the modern workplace and drive the economyfootnote 17.

Facing health and wellness issues: Research suggests that today's young people will not necessarily be healthier than their parents. Childhood obesity rates for Canadian children between two and 17 years have increased from 15% in 1979 to 26% in 2004footnote 20. Approximately one in five of Ontario's children and youth experience mental health concernsfootnote 21.

Taking longer to gain independence: Research shows that, on average, the transition to adulthood has become longer and more complex than for previous generations. Many Ontario youth are staying in school longer, living at home for prolonged periods, and taking longer to marry and gain economic independencefootnote 22. For some youth, these choices may have a cultural dimension.

Living in busy families: Changes in family structure over the past 30 years have impacted the ways that young people interact with their parents, siblings and extended families in the home. For example, single-parent families are on the rise. Families today lead busy lives, often with both parents working outside the home. For many families, finding time in their schedules to spend together is difficult.

Understanding the needs of all youth

The majority of Ontario's young people are thriving. At the same, we know that many youth in Ontario face multiple barriers and need some help to reach their full potential. We recognize that some groups of youth have unique circumstances, challenges and needs and we want to acknowledge the individual strengths and voice they bring to this framework. These youth may need more targeted supports and opportunities to ensure they are able to succeed.

Racialized youth: We know that racialized youth face challenges with marginalization, racism, employment barriers, education setbacks, and social and cultural isolation that can have a negative impact on their development. Racialized youth in Ontario have lower rates of employment and higher rates of poverty than the rest of the populationfootnote 26. They also face risks of racial profiling and discrimination in their daily lives, which can lead to disengagement and mistrust of public institutionsfootnote 27. We know that addressing racism and improving access to culturally-appropriate services and programs can often provide support to these youth.

Newcomer youth: The needs and life experiences of immigrant, refugee and first generation youth are unique as they adapt to a new culture and environment in Canada. Youth who are new to Canada may speak English as a second language, may have past experiences with trauma, and may have extra responsibilities at home as they are often relied on to support their parents in navigating systems and services in their communities. Studies have also found that newcomers are more likely to experience discrimination when seeking employmentfootnote 29. Further, we know that "undocumented" youth (youth without immigration status) living in Ontario are especially vulnerable and are without access to many of the services needed to protect health and wellbeingfootnote 30.

Aboriginal youth: There is great diversity among Aboriginal peoples in Ontario – including First Nations living on and off-reserve, Métis, Inuit, and urban Aboriginal populations – each having a distinct culture, history, and experiences. Aboriginal young people represent the largest and fastest growing population of youth across Canada. Almost half of the Aboriginal population in Ontario (43%) is under age 24, compared to one-third (32%) of the non-Aboriginal populationfootnote 31.

We know that some Aboriginal youth in Ontario face complex challenges relating to issues such as poverty, housing, and barriers to education and employment. Many youth and families also face social issues often resulting from the inter-generational effects of residential schools, such as cultural disconnection, mental health issues and addictions, and parenting challenges. We also know that many Aboriginal youth are looking towards a positive future for their children and grandchildren. Services and programs that are culturally based and holistic in approach are important to ensuring these youth can feel supported and connected. Aboriginal youth are working to support local social and economic growth, and want to lead their communities into a bright and successful future.footnote 32

Youth with disabilities or special needs: Many young people in Ontario are living with disabilities and special needs – including those who have physical or developmental disabilities, those with chronic conditions, those with a learning disorder and those who have difficulty seeing, hearing or speakingfootnote 33.

We know that youth living with disabilities or special needs in Ontario have a lot to offer their communities. However, we also know that they face barriers and challenges relating to accessibility and social inclusion. These young people may be more vulnerable to abuse, living in poor housing, living below the poverty line, being bullied, and being unemployed. Gaining access to disability friendly environments plays an important role in supporting youth with disabilities or special needs to thrive.

Youth in and leaving care: In 2012, more than 8,300 children and youth were living in care in Ontariofootnote 36. Research shows that youth leaving care face more challenges in reaching the milestones of positive development, including completing education and gaining employmentfootnote 37,footnote 38, footnote 39. We know that some groups of young people are over-represented in the child welfare system, including Aboriginal youth. Approximately 68% of children and youth in care are diagnosed as special needs and 93% have been noted to have behavioural difficultiesfootnote 40. Studies have shown that the challenges that youth in care face have a profound impact on their ability to succeed in school (only 42% of youth in care graduate from school by the age of 20)footnote 41.

LGBT2SQ youth: Ontario is home to many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit and queer young people (LGBT2SQ) who have important perspectives to offer their communities. We know that LGBT2SQ youth are more likely to experience discrimination, verbal assault and physical violence than their peers. We also know that LGBT2SQ youth are more likely to face challenges with mental health, substance abuse and homelessness.

Francophone youth: One in four francophones in Ontario are under the age of 25. Almost one in two young Franco-Ontarians live in Eastern Ontario, close to the Quebec borderfootnote 42. Young francophone Ontarians have expressed that they find it challenging to speak French in many situations, and that movies, television, music and the Internet can impact their language choicesfootnote 43. Maintaining a francophone identity can be especially challenging as youth leave home for school and as they enter the workforcefootnote 44.

Youth living in rural and remote communities: In 2006, 14% of Ontarians under 25 years of age lived in rural areasfootnote 45. Rural and remote youth can face additional difficulties in accessing services, education, training and activities such as recreation due to distance and few public transportation optionsfootnote 46. In addition, many of Ontario's rural and remote young people face the challenging decision to leave home and move to more urban areas of Ontario to seek opportunities for school and workfootnote 47.

Youth living in poverty: In 2009, households where young people under 25 are the major income earner have the second highest rates of poverty in Canada (33.8%)footnote 48. In 2010, 13.8% of all Ontario young people were living below the fixed Low Income Measurefootnote 49. Evidence shows that young people living in poverty are at an increased risk for a wide range of physical, behavioural and emotional problems. The chronic stress associated with living in poverty can also adversely impact a young person's memory, concentration and ability to learnfootnote 50. In a time when most young people are acquiring the skills and experiences needed for a healthy and stable future, a young person living in poverty is focused on meeting their day-to-day needs. The rising cost of basic needs, such as shelter, can make it almost impossible for many young people to save for things like tuition or pay down debt.

Youth in conflict with the law: Evidence shows that young people who have been in conflict with the law face a number of barriers and challenges as they age. Since the Youth Criminal Justice Act came into force in 2004, fewer young Ontarians are being brought into custody – but those that are tend to be the most high-risk young people. In addition, some groups of young people are over-represented in the youth justice system, including Aboriginal youth and African-Canadian youth. Youth who are or have been in custody tend to have poorer outcomes in areas such as education and employment. Recognizing the challenges these youth face can help us to better support them to live up to their potential.