Conversations on the streets – 4 things to say to young people (and maybe 4 not to)

In an article in Youthwork Magazine, Ali Campbell describes how as youthworkers (he is writing to the faith based youthworkers) should where appropriate say the following things to young people:

  1. I Believe in You
  2. I dont know
  3. You are loved and forgiven
  4. What do you think?

The full article is here: Youthwork Magazine. Give it a read, it is well worth it.

For me, theres a couple of things to reflect on further with this short list of four things that faith based youthworkers should say to young people. The first, and most obviously is that context is a huge factor in this- as is the relationship that a youthworker has with a young person – ie its depth, and because of the depth of the relationship – how genuine then any words we actually say then have resonance. If, for example, the high tempo, at the front type youth worker proclaims on a regular basis to every assembly of 500 young people that he believes in them, then these words are just a tiny bit shallow. Likewise, on the streets, if i just meet a young person for the first time, then to say that i believe in them, might be received as a bit weird, actually its quite a risky kind of statement, certainly risky in the world of detached, where supportive relationships are created in the margins in groups.

Thinking about detached a little further and its power dynamics, as well as its context- there are only 2 of the above list that i would transfer as ‘essential for the streets’ – though i would agree that in essence detached workers should act as though they believe in young people, and act with values that might be accused of ‘loving’ and being ‘for’ young people too much. The two i would place in the detached youth work vocabulary tool kit would be; ‘I dont know’ and ‘What do you think?’  – purely because on detached an awful lot of questions usually head in the direction of the worker (and if there isnt its because young people have given up, cant be bothered to trust in the worker). I dont know, and what do you think – are good, as Ali suggests, and bringing in honesty to the conversation, and a point of reference for collaborative exploring, and the kind of dialogue where both parties learn from each other. (Check out Paulo Freire).

But to make a list complete of four for the faith base detached youthworker- what would be good to add?

so if 1 is I dont know, 2. What do you think?    then what for number 3…


3. You’re good at/ naturally good at……..

– this for being on the street focusses the mind of the youthworker on the tangeable positives of the young person, from the skills of the ball they are kicking around, to the heated discussion they are having (which they might be eloquent in arguing!), defending a point of view, supporting their friends, maintaining friendships – If we do nothing else on the streets, to be the kind of youthworkers that recognise a positive in the young person might just do more than make their evening, it might just start to help them think differently about themselves. It might help them raise their game. Nothing better than being encouraged for what you’re good at, nothing better in recognising young peoples gifts especially when others might have judged them for their ‘needs’.  This is also a risk, in that a young person might not want to hear compliments, or might allow a person to have the power to proclaim not only ‘goodness’ but also ‘wrongness’ – so this can be a risk- but often a risk worth taking…

(If we say to young people that they might be good at things even more often in the church – and shifted ‘ministries’ suit their gifts…. – but thats another reflection – see ABCD)

and what is number 4….

Is the tone we use to convey to a young person that we are listening. So all the phrases like … tell me more… its ok, go on…. that must have been tough… no, i am here to listen, say what you need to help… In a way its that we almost say nothing, just allow a young person to speak. Maybe this is one of the key differences on the streets, as there is an unending time for lengthy conversation – its why we are there. 4 might be the spoken word that invites their story.  There is no programme to rush through, in a public space, with their friends,

There is no programme to rush through, in a public space, with their friends, conversation is key, and giving away that space for young people is crucial. What we can say will have more resonance, not just if we acknowledge the power shift in the space of the streets, but we have listened to the actual young people, and acknowledged the particularity of their experiences. Only then might we get chance to speak with authority, reality or confidence.


And just for fun ; these might be four things not to say to young people, but its so easy to…..

  1. “when i was a young person” ……………….
  2. “Stop being silly and just grow up”……………..
  3. “with all this technology, you young people have got it all so easy”…………
  4. “we’re having a special service on sunday with a great speaker who likes to talk to young people, why not bring a friend to the service”….

But im sure we dont say things like that to young people in churches anymore do we….





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