The Emotional reality of Detached youthwork

This evening i was back out on the streets with a new volunteer, you know the type, curious of detached, enthusiastic, keen, so in an attempt to burst the bubble we headed out to have a wander around the main areas of our patch this evening. As an observation session for her, and gave her time to ask questions of what its all about and to get to know the area. During the time i was proudly giving her a grand tour of the area, including the highlights of icy roads, corner shops, CCTV cameras, and bleak dark park areas she asked me two questions, both of which i responded to at the time, but that i would also share with you. the first was;

  1. Do you find that you change who you are when you’re with young people on the streets, to fit in or be understood?

Our conversation had been about accents, and that neither she or I have the same accent as the local young people, and whether our slightly soft East midlands accents would adapt, and we’d start to use words or phrases differently with the young people. I wonder if there is a subconscious adapting, that happens over a long period of time, but not sure if that happens in the space of a conversation with a group in 20 minutes or so. I did suggest that its better to be as ‘normally yourself’ as possible, as being false, and being false to be popular would be acceptable behaviours in terms of treating young people with respect. Neither would be trying to mimic local accents. Its better i suggested to be real, and although young people might find us interesting in a limited way, its better to invest time in being interested in them.

The second question was; do you find that young people react to you like a Father type figure?

This is a phrase id hate to try and adapt to being in the space of detached, i guess for fear of paternalism. Or dependency. Yet for all trying to remain distant and professional, there is no getting away from the fact that doing detached youthwork is a highly relationship orientated activity, and as such there’s no escaping that emotional connections, and responses can occur. Because albeit we want to help, and support and educate young people, we also do this in having conversation and connecting, communicating and in that there can be emotional connections. Would it be reasonable to suggest that this is common? And hear me out, its not from ill placed desires or personal needs, its that there can be a genuine sense of care, and connection with our personal emotions that is brought about when we interact with young people. We do care, and also young people might do so too. Its why they get annoyed when workers they trusted leave, or they vie for attention. As a team in Perth we used to either walk young people to or wait for them to get onto the last buses out of town, there was something completing in the sense of them leaving the city to head to their homes, also something assuring and maybe yes slightly paternal, at times it became a routine, but in some ways it was our way of showing regular care or connection with their lives. Can, that crazy, unpredictable world of detached youthwork also be a place of genuine emotional connections, in the place and space of young people – well yes – why because its where young people are able to choose it and choose us too.

Next week we’ll quit the chatting about detached when we walk around, it’ll be jackets and ID on, and starting to have conversations with young people, hopefully real ones, and real moments to connect with young people.

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