‘Meet them where they’re at’
Has been the ‘buzzword’ for detached youthwork for quite a while now, adopted by anyone doing it, whether in a faith or non faith setting. As I was thinking about this phrase the other day, it caused me to think about what the benefits are to meeting young people where theyre at – however difficult or vulnerable this may cause us to need to be.
So – What are the benefits to meeting young people where theyre at:
- The Space is chosen by the young person – so they have made the choice to be there, and is familiar to them.
- The young person can be witnessed in their own setting – ie how they are without the social constructions of adults – ie school or home- so we see how they choose to be, showing social, practical skills.
- We learn about young people from the point of interaction – thats if we listen attentively
- The setting is a place of their energy, passion and conversation – that we can join in with
- Young people have the choice to continue to interact and engage, and so do we
- It can be a place to challenge direct accusation, or insults given to young people by others, usually adults – we become a barrier.
- We see become accepted and see the reality – ie what goes on, how and who – and be in and amongst it. Opportunities arise to help young people at their worst.
- It takes alot more effort to get the same young people ‘into an event’ than meet them on the streets and have a purposeful conversation with them.
- We become significant and accepted in their border dwelling between structures, and by being there provide opportunities for them to reflect on the structures, of school or parents. We identity as not being a structure to construct their story of, but fellow aiders in the reflective construction that they make.
- Our availability to help them, is not down to their efforts to fit in to an established group or club.
From a faith perspective, it would also be worth adding that meeting young people where theyre at begins to reflect something of the nature of God, the one who loves and became part of the world in person through the incarnation. Meeting young people where theyre at models something of the faith story, but its possible not enough to model it in action. It matters too what happens when we meet young people, how we interact and act. No point meeting young people where they’re at only to judge, belittle, ignore or patronise young people. Meeting young people where theyre at causes us to have to be human, self aware, good at conversation and be thinking on our feet, ready for the unpredictable, unbelievable and also uncontrolled. All of which is part of the adrenaline rush, the ongoing process of purposeful relationship building and valuing young people in their social context.
Oh and if we do meet young people where theyre at – i reckon we’re likely to engage with 10% of a local population of young people over the course of a year. Something that most other youth provision would dream of. And their parents.