This came up as a question on twitter in a conversation with Rachel Gardner on Wednesday, we conversed after she’d posted about giving youthworkers information about subjects (in her case about porn, because she runs the Romance academy workshops) so that they could not only be equipped to respond to the questions, but that because they had some knowledge so that they wouldnt be embarrassed or flustered by what young people might ask.
So, my question is – how might people who are youthworkers be skilled in maintaining cool composure in situations that could be causes of embarrassment, or lack of control? Linked to it is actually what are we there for as youthworkers- to respond to questions with responses and/or be insightful to the person, power and intent of the question and use this question as an educative platform.
On one hand the context might set the embarrassment, for me being asked on the streets about something by a young person in the public but open is far easier than say in a school or church where there may be others watching and waiting for the ‘correct’ response- and not a blushing youthworker squirming in the spotlight of a class of 35….
But nevertheless- its important to know how to react in a situation that instinctively might cause you to squirm, as, thats generally the last thing a young person needs.
I wonder if the agenda of the question is set by us, then we should expect questions on the subject – why? well because young people might want to please us, and ask, so that we notice them.
Though thats not to say young people dont ask questions even when theres no agenda set, because things happen, and situations occur that they want to ask about, whether that is porn, or racism, or relationships, we got loads of questions in lessons about legal highs, but why – because it was a lesson on legal highs, – but my experience is that these are fewer and further between, unless an external factor has caused them to feel they want to chat about it. We would never have had discussion about legal highs with young people on the streets if we hadn’t also talked with them in school that week….
So – how might you stay calm? in response to a question or challenge that a young person has well:
- if they ask a question – see what their opinion is of it, or their peers – they might actually want to express their own – and it gives you thinking time, Does the young person actually want your opinion, and even if they do, as a youthworker is it not more important to explore with them what they think first- before we give an answer that they might feel they have to use as the benchmark for their own.
- Treat the situation in the calm composed way you might deal with a child protection or health related serious issue- ok so its not, but if you can be calm and cool in that situation (when your heart may burn with anger/protection/care) then go into that mode of behaviour for an embarrasing one..
- With some questions the context might not be appropriate to respond, maybe especially in a group or school – and there isnt any prizes for saying something crude, rude or funny back- so be respectful of the question and the person, and suggest a later time to respond.
- Practice staying calm in a different situation..
- And yes, you will make mistakes, or get flustered, and theres nothing lost by apologising
- Its not for everyone but after becoming a parent and progressing through toddler-hood with two children, young people are a refreshing challenge compared to the embarrassment your own children can be. Im not recommending ‘having children’ as a tool for not being embarrassed by young people, but they do give you lots of practice to feel embarrassed. Young people on the streets can be a breeze in comparison
- Have a sense of humour about it, but dont take that sense of humour to deride, belittle or embarrass the young person back, just to deflect it off yourself.
- you dont have to be honest about whether you have or havent done something they ask, but its important not to lie, and realise that if their questions are more personal, then to stop responding and try and explore more of their opinions about the subject. Deciding when lively banter crosses the boundary to personal challenge, and when inquisitiveness becomes intrusiveness is the time to call a halt to proceedings.
I remember one time, actually a few times when being calm in the face of questions or challenges hasnt been as helpful as a more passioned response, and on other times staying calm in a chaotic situation, especially on the streets proved to be invaluable, even when feeling threatened, (though not actually being threatened) staying calm and composed can be the way to let a young person know that they havent ‘got to you’.
No quick fixes, practice if you can, realise it and think ahead to what could be heading your way and think creatively on your feet. Think about the young person behind the question and what it might be they want from you as they ask? their tone, the situation, and what they might be doing by asking.
You will never know everything about every situation, you shouldn’t need to, because young people are the best knowledge resource there is. Unless you set the subject in an assembly or lesson, they wont be asking you something unless they already know about it, so ask them more of what they know and explore together.
These are just mine based on the experiences on the streets, and doing subject based lessons, all situations and young people are unique and so if you have tips you want to share for others please add a comment here….