I wonder if it is a good premise to start from in youthwork, even youth ministry, even if its a painful realisation to come to.
That young people dont care about youthworkers!
As youthworkers we might hope that young people actually like us, want to spend time with us, and we hope listen to what we might have to say. But fundamentally they dont actually care about us.
Looking at this on the basis of street based youthwork this isnt particularly controvertial. At least at first glance it might not be. In most regular discussions about meeting young people where theyre at, in dealing with various forms of conversation, including challenges, questions or humour, boundary testing and provoke that young people give during the conversations – one of the easiest ways to deal with such questions is not to take them personally and to realise that if a young person asks a personal question ; usually a have you ever…..? type question (ie have you ever got drunk, gambled, had sex, that kind of thing) it is not usually a personal enquiry to discover something about the youthworker- it is more to find approval, to find acceptance, to assess consistency and tolerance of the youthworker for the young persons benefit. Fundamentally, even if it was that a young person, or group of young people did ask these types of questions more seriously, the meaning behind the responses, the purpose of sharing a personal give away response – is not usually to reciprocate an element of care – reality yes, authenticity yes – trust also. But not care.
Why might this matter? – In a way it means that the interaction we have with young people becomes less about feeding our ego with personal acceptance, and thinking about the young person, their dreams, interests and being interested in them for who they are – if young people really arent interested in us, then neither in the interaction should we be interested about us too, neither our story, our past, our experience – Young people , especially when we meet them where theyre at, just dont care about us! They care firstly about themselves, their friends and countless other things…
Young people, especially, want to trust people, the youthworker – they can do this without actually caring about them.
They might care about the youth club – more that the youthworker, the programme that helps them get a job , more that the youthworker, whose job might be on the line because of the end of the programme.
This, i think, isnt a reality check for those of us on the streets – we know young people dont care about us- though when they do- or we give them chance to it can be an incredible moment. If we run the open youth club, the employment programme, the project – again it would be fair to say that the young people have their future prospects, their achievement is a higher priority that building up a real connection with the worker – though they might respect, listen and respond to them.
I wonder if the reality check for this is in the church and youth ministry.
Or if this type of working with young people gives young people more opportunities to actually care about the people that they trust. Is there an assumption in youth ministry situations, or Ministry, that young people default some kind of care or respect to a youth worker in a church setting? , which means that it becomes possible to inspire because young people in a church actually care about what a youthworker says to them in this context.
However, I wonder whether in churches, or in clubs, or on the streets, we can spend alot of time trying to be important and significant with young people and hoping that they might care about what we say because we hope they find us fun, interesting, relevant.
Often we’re imported in to a situation (church/club) in a paid role, and when this is the case we’re the professional come to help, to run the show. As volunteers in the church this might fundamentally be different, it becomes more of the family dynamic, friends of friends helping friends- there might be more intuitive care.
We probably shouldnt want young people to care about us anyway, thats not our role. But how often do we hope young people like us? find us interesting? or hope they follow us because of our likeability? – more so than who we stand for, our views, or our acceptance of them?
If we thought young people actually care about us, we probably need to get over it and realise the care we might have for young people is a one way street. It is probably better that way, after all we wouldn’t want to encourage dependency or favouritism – and even these moments could be determined as young people acting in ways to get what they want rather than to actually care about the youth worker.
When we meet young people for the first time, there is no rapport, there are few commonalities or shared experiences they have no reason to think anything of us at all. So if, as or when, young people give us space in their space to talk and give an opinion this is semblance of respect – if they still give us that opportunity when they might have got to know us then even better. But in reality, and it is a reality – and it might be hard to take, young people don’t really care about their youth worker and what they say.
We dont do youthwork for young people to care about us – so maybe we should act as though its true that they dont – but continue to be interested, to educate, to inspire and to help them challenge the oppression they face anyway. How we enable young people to care about us to the point of reflecting, thinking and being respectful of what we say and do when we communicate with them is part of the respect building game – our well being is not the young persons game, neither is the respect for our opinion, our past, our story, our beliefs, or hopes – this is earned in stages. Young people, can be very respectful, and generous and considerate to us on the streets – they might even give space for conversation, but in the main, and rightly so, it is often about them.