As a writer and reader of young-adult literature, I get impatient when I hear the stereotype that high-school and college-age people are self-centered, impulsive, short-sighted, and believe they're immortal. As a teen, I was anything but impulsive, nor was I confident that I would live forever. I cared very much about the world's problems, the world's future. And I know there are many, many young people today who do also.
We do see this a little in today's YA literature, though I'd love to see more. The books of Carrie Jones and Olugbemisola Rhuday Perkovich contain YA characters who volunteer for others. I wrote a book in which one of the main characters worked for several different causes. Sadly, that book had some big flaws that rendered it unpublishable, but I wouldn't be surprised if that character shows up in one of my future books.
What got me thinking about this today was this article from SCA (the Student Conservation Association) about a young man who, while still a college student, began doing conservation work in Yosemite National Park. Appalled by the trash he found there, he formulated a "'crazy idea. I would walk across America and pick up trash. And, I would get other people, 20-something people, to volunteer and help. I wanted to start a big youth movement, really grassroots.'" That "crazy idea" became Pick Up America, where people have been banding together to clean up litter.
For years, SCA has been providing high-school and college-age people with hands-on conservation service opportunities. And all over the world, young people are giving to other causes they care about. For example, Trevor's Campaign for the Homeless came about because an 11-year-old boy was worried about people sleeping on the streets.