I was recently in a conversation with a youthwork professional who was describing a situation where they had given young people in a church the opportunity to share their issues about life, questions they had and to use these to plan the future direction of their group in terms of activities. Amongst other things, such as bullying, eating disorders and pressure to conform, the worker mentionned that the young people started to ask questions of the church and growing up in it, struggles they had and felt being there.
It was a church based group after all, for them a communuty in which they could be part of, that their parents were definately part of and involved and they were also there.
I would imagine that this is a well trod scenario, where if you give young people the open space and the trust in you to provide issues and opinion then they may just do that.
Its our responses to it that matter. For it would be the easy option, the, ‘we can feel needed option’ , if we plan a course to give young people the tools to cope; cope with being bullied, cope with school pressure, cope with fears and worries, cope with uncertainty, cope within communities like a church or other community where they feel out of place, out of sync, ignored, unvalued or unimportant. But just cope.
Maybe this is the get out for the easy option for many of us as youthworkers in whatever setting. Maybe this is the mantra of our funding reports, aims and objectives. We’ll support young people to x or y or z, help young people deal with their issues.
And not only cope, we could as youthworkers add to their lives by distracting entertainment, play, group work, education. All good skill based activities, not addressing the real issue, the elephant never even in the room.
What would it look like for youth ministry professionals in church settings to challenge any oppressive power based organisational structures in churches as young people name and identify them?
What of the youthworker that tries to take on the system or ideology of a school that exerts a type of education that doesnt fit the young person?
Is it time to be honest with the realities young people name for us, if theyre struggling how might change be enacted with them to enable them to flourish? . What are the systematic powers in society that are subliminally causing oppression and might these also ring true in the organisations?
Coping cant be the sole solution. Yet coping in these powerful systems is apparently the easy way. Its especially the easy way when its the system that also pays the bills.
We have a faith and a philosophy of youthwork that can challenge the powers and in doing so liberate the captives. If organisations and churches have structures and processes that restrict, disable or inhibit then its the role of the
youth worker to critique and propose with the young people opportunities for change.
Youth ministry and youthwork has to do more that help young people cope, become resilient or play the system. Its the oppressive systems themselves that need
naming and for young people to be liberated from and within.
“Unfortunately, what happens to a greater or lesser degree in the various worlds into which the world is divided is that the ordinary person is crushed, diminished, converted into a spectator, maneuvered by myths which powerful social forces have created. These myths turn against him ; they destroy and annihilate him… they drown in leveling anonymity, without hope, without faith, domesticated (in the system) and adjusted” (Freire 1976)
Young people might sometimes be treated like the stray cats of society, but instead of domesticating them into systems, lets give them space and encouragement and permission to challenge, critique and be free from just coping spectators awaiting rescue but to be actors freely playing in the theatre of the world. I feel like the youthwork equivalent of bloody braveheart. Maybe its Freire getting to me.
Coping isnt living, its just coping.