Whats the point of youth work?

A pretty easy to answer question- isnt it? However, I was asked to do a 5 minute presentation on this question, and could have probably expanded it to a 150 credit module length of study. I imagine, knowing what the point of youthwork is is worth knowing so we know how to justify it and plead for its continuation. Here is what i think the point of youthwork is:

Youthwork is about young people, first and foremost, it makes it different from school, from social services and other institutions as young people are and should be placed first and foremost as the point for and at which the activity exists.

As a definition i would say that youthwork is a professional relationship with a young person who is the primary contributor in their social context.

Youthwork as a philosophy is geared towards and biased towards young people, being with them, not just for them, and has young peoples education, welfare and community as its core. Youthwork is about developing positive purposeful relationships between young people and adults, and learn, and create opportunities through these relationships.

Youthwork exists within the local community as it is affected by it, as young people learn to use, accept or reject the resources in their community, as youthworkers our role is to help young people navigate through these choices and also remove barriers that prevent them from participation.

The point of youthwork is to believe in young people and to work with them to use their gifts and accomplish dreams they may have for themselves and their local community.

  1. Youthwork is about values – empowerment, inclusion, participation, valuing young people
  2. Builds on what is already – turning open activity sessions in young person led and developed spaces of participation and empowerment
  3. Youthwork opens the opportunities for young people and their participation, from attenders and deciders to creators (and challenging the barriers that prevent this)
  4. Youthwork trusts young people and raises their game to take risks
  5. Youthwork is a place of fun, social relationships and creativity.
  6. Youthwork creates a safe space, a home for young people, where they can belong.
  7. Youthwork values young people individuals and groups in their community
  8. Youthwork challenges the narratives about young people and is inherently political
  9. Youthwork recognises that young people have needs, but focus on their gifts and positives in order to overcome them
  10. Youthwork creates a space for innovation and improvisation
  11. Youthwork is a space to help young people reflect on their place in the world and contribute within it
  12. Youthwork is also what people who do youthwork say that it is, it is an ongoing conversation. It continues and is future orientated.

The point of youthwork is that it strategises from the point of contact, it involves young people and believes in them to be better than what they may have been told about themselves. Youthwork changes young people, it changes all of us in the encounters we have.

You will notice a variety of influences here, from Howard Sercombe, Kerry Young, Jeffs and Smith, Goetchius and Tash, all deep thinkers and practitioners who have shaped the conversation so far and its our job to keep the conversation going. And help the conversation about young people be integral to other agencies and institutions.

What do you think – whats the point of youthwork?

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How might we respond and learn from young peoples challenging behaviour?

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Whenever there is a question and answer session involving volunteers and developing community based youthwork, this is the one question that is almost certainly guarantee;

What do you do with young peoples challenging behaviour?

and it is a great question. Behind is often a combination of exasperation at what is going on, as well as a desire that the young people connect and benefit from what is provided and that the volunteers in question want to work with them. Maybe not every time, but most times. And most times, our reaction to challenging behaviour is a reason why young people dont continue with participating in the group.

Before thinking through the issue it is worth thinking through what it going on in the wording of the question. For, the reality is that we all encounter what might be challenging behaviour all the time by other people, especially by people who are in authority over us, or where there are public spaces. What i am saying is that adults display challenging behaviour too. Whether thats in the PCC meeting, or the open saturday coffee morning, or the bus home. I dont think the ‘young people’ element of the question is unfair mind, but it is worth thinking through how we encounter challenging behaviour around us, and how we adapt, ignore, challenge or deal with it in the everyday. So, being with people and working with people is likely to create situations where challenging behaviour exists.

The first thing we to look at in the situation is ourselves.

The reason being, is that this is the bit of the situation that we ourselves can control, to a large extent – before we look at what is going on, and the behaviour of the young people.

It is worth asking questions like:

What kind of expectations do we have about young people and their behaviour?

How much ‘chaos’ is tolerated?

What kind of environment do we want to create?

What are the aims and objectives of the group/activity?

Do all the volunteers know what is expected of themselves?

Is there anything in the setting that could be a trigger?

What are the power dynamics on display?

These are important, as they are something we can do something about. To a large extent, we do need to reflect on what we, as a group of volunteers. are able to tolerate and cope with – but at the same time realise that there might be stuff that we do, or dont do, that acts as a spark for the behaviour itself. The behaviour itself might not be challenging, but because of our expectations, then we feel we have to do something about it. Not every, sometimes not any, group of young people playing in the park are anti social theyre just young people playing! , yet young people playing, running, shouting and letting off steam in some areas could be a cue for phone calls to the police, because of fear and expectations. Our expectations might often shape how we perceive the behaviour. So it is worth looking at ourselves, volunteers, culture and expectations of the practice – and whether we want conformity from young people to our ways, or be open and young person led – or somewhere in between. The former is much more difficult, but it can be often what is implied when we try and use techniques to calm young people down. Which is fine, though actually not fine, in a formal environment like a school, but the open youth club or after school group – is not a school is it? At least id hope we’re not thinking ‘well they wouldnt behave like this in school’ – I would hope we’re not expecting young people in our church groups to have to behave in the same way they have to in school…

So… To the Challenging Behaviour – what is going on?

The fundamental thing to do is to understand that in one way or another we are triggering, or continuing to trigger young peoples challenging behaviour. If we try and understand what is going on, this is the only conclusion that is completely true in every situation of it. We are doing something to trigger it.

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The key thing is to work out what it is!

There is something we are doing that creates stress in the young person that they are reacting to.

We need to look for patterns. When does the behaviour occur ( at the beginning, or end of the session? – or when its time for the God-slot ie when a type of control is exerted) Is it to a particular person/volunteer?

Are young people bored, because they are under-challenged by whats going on?

These questions are more important than trying to disect what the problem is ie physical, verbal, sexually explicit, aggressive, non complicit, etc. Most of it will be triggered by something. Young people are making an emotional reaction to the situation, are either fighting against or flighting from – through putting up barriers of their own.

Even if we try and think through the situation and try and understand it, sometimes our judgements are incorrent, and we risk making assumptions, what we cant deny is that something acts as a trigger, and that something needs to be reflected on and thought through.

I remember a situation where young people would like to play football in the church car park at the same time as church was on, was this challenging behaviour? the church congregation thought so. But this space was where young people played every evening, it was near to their homes and was in eye view of the kitchen windows. It was a safe place to play, that was made disrupted and created a stir only once a week, when a whole load of people parked their cars to go inside the building. Whats the cause of the challenging behaviour? What is the trigger in this situation?

There are countless others. The distress near to the end of a weeks residential ( when ‘going home’ starts to loom in view), the distractions during the conversations, destructive behaviour when others get attention, spoiling the fun of others, being suggestive, testing boundaries, there so much that a young person or group of young people could be doing, that we might determine is challenging. And it is. The challenge is to us.

The challenge is – how might we raise, change or adapt our ‘game’ to be able to continue to work with the young people? (at least id hope this is the case, rather than ‘how can we get rid of them so we never have to see them again‘..)

And we might have to and need to adapt. Id go further, and say that we do need to adapt.

We might have to create the kind of space where a young person might be less likely to be disruptive, or show the behaviour, or cause harm to themselves or others or property. Maybe the open youth club is ok, but the small group work isnt, maybe the detached session is a better space to interact so both parties can walk away, than the open club. If the space is too formal, like a school, such as mentoring, then there might not be an alternative – the question there is whether we as youthworkers have lost the informal voluntary ness of the relationship, and so a young person might take time not to be challenging. Its an experience i know well from mentoring young people where we never got out of the ‘calm’ room for an hour…

The challenging behaviour might be a reason for us to reflect on and then change our approach.

The challenging behaviour might also be a reason to reflect on the needs of that individual

The challenging behavour might be because young people are trying to tell us that they’re bored, not involved and not interested- it might not be challenging enough or participatory enough. They want to have control, but are given none.

I remember the situation where a young person was showing disruptive behaviour when part of a group – but when they were asked for their help with one of the leaders, completely changed. That person was used to caring for younger siblings, they knew how to be responsible, they didnt like being treated as a one amongst many. They could raise their game, but it took a brave leader to give them the space to do this. (it wasnt me)

What if instead of trying to deal with the challenging behaviour we view it as a learning opportunity? I guess thats what ive been suggesting all along. What if we see the disruption a moment of spiritual disruption, God trying to speak to us through the young person, a provoke. If young people are disruptive, and it is boredom then maybe we need to think, and think fast.

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There is no good just being reactive to the challenging behaviour. But it will cause a reaction, a challenge and a moment for collective reflective practice. It is also an opportunity to develop new strategies, or practices or thinking about the why, how and what of working with particular young people, especially if we still want them to experience and receive something positive, support, love or an experience that might enable change or transformation.

It might be that we need to get outside help and guidance, to go through further ideas, and get support – and that could be someone like me, or other local youth workers, diocesan youth officer type person, outside support could really benefit you. As working with young people is not, and never has been easy, they will keep you on your toes, its part of the fun of it. It is always challenging, no, but sometimes it is. What we might have to realise is that our behaviour towards young people might be challenging too.

What do we expect teenagers to be made of, a substance tougher than steel?

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I saw this quote doing the rounds on Facebook today. Excuse its language. But dont excuse its sentiment.

On one hand we could argue that young people in the 80’s and 90’s didnt have it too badly – and I should know i was one of them. Politicians got headlines for peace deals, climate change caused action, peace was a hopeful reality i large parts of the world. There were EMA grants, nearly free higher education, still a general reality that post university meant employment, house prices were going up, but a 2-3 bedroom house in areas north of sheffield might still be ‘only’ £40,000. And the rest.

And so, those who grew up optimistic in the 90’s, maybe had it too good. or too easy. Previous generations had it easy in comparison. Even those in the 1990’s, at least they had hope. In the main.

Fast forward to today. All the things that might have been an issue for teenagers in the 80s or 90s are still there, but multiplied. There’s double the advertising on TV with its 40 extra channels, online and on screens – with all the worry about life and expectation this causes. The News is an always open door to constant fear. The financial cut backs are extraordinary and yet the expectations on young people are higher – or shall i say the expectations on schools to be performing and have high performing pupils is greater than ever. To the point that those left behind and being actually left behind, left out and notionally excluded. When outcomes and targets rule, then humanity and inclusion falls way short.

Then there’s the cut backs on all the funding for young people to actually get support to cope in this situation. mental health and social work budgets slashed, and open youth clubs eradicated all together. And it is left to the voluntary and faith sectors to pick up the pieces, but doing so whilst also competing for funding and being in a similarly perilous state. (whilst the budget for HS2 or trident is secure seemingly).

So – where does that leave the young person? – Does society view them as the victim in all of this? the oppressed even. 

Nope. If anything the young person is to blame for all this. Those bloody millenials ruining it for the rest of us. Generalise and blame thats the strategy of the media, but initiate self reflection on the current holders of power….

Blame the phone, not blame society that created that need, or the adults who foisted it into existence and made implicit demands on parents to pay for ‘an essential’.

So – what do we think young people are made of to cope in all of this? 

Well – not enough resilience for one. (hence all the resilience classes)

Not enough confidence ( hence all the ‘self confidence classes’)

And yes, these are needed. And not just for the teachers.

as if its all an individual young persons fault. Young people are having to cope with so much more than ever before, and doing so without the hope that things will improve. Society expects young people to cope within all of this. Its not surprising that so many struggle. What if it wasnt just about coping and surviving as a young person.

I wonder if young people might collectively rise up and challenge, critique and get passionate about the systems that are causing so much damage to them and their peers.

Things that help a young person, Goals, Self worth (ability + competance), Purpose and Value (Bryan, 2016) – if any of these start to be affected, then they will start to struggle. So, therapy might help to help a young person talk through coping through these. But fundamentally the sources of these things need to also be dealt with. Blame Neoliberalism, but a new system needs to be created – one that is more human/humane, and the rest. But if a young persons purpose and value is wrapped up in ‘things’ or ‘image’ or ‘popularity’ – then its no wonder that they are stressed, worried. But that isnt new – the only difference is the current speed of change or intensity. The main difference is fear caused by the news, inequality between rich/poor, deficiencies in the education system (especially 16+) but also the efficiency drive, and also limited hope economically – where only the strong might survive…

What might young people be expected to be made of?

Filters that are sensitive to fake news

Resilience to cope with oppression, abuse and uncertainty

An internal buoyancy to be able to react positively to fear

An innocence of humanity to see beyond divisive politics

A Hopefulness of spirit to maintain motivation in school

A self confidence to be both an individual and like everyone else

To be able to glide effortlessly through being a teenager, ready packaged and prepared for the ‘breeze’ that is ‘being an adult.. or alternatively – does any of this really change that much…

Teenagers – Adults, we might need to learn about how they cope with it all, we might need the same lessons. Well pretty much anyone working within ‘people’ related jobs has had to sharpen up their armour in the last 10 years. Coping working with humans and enabling their flourishing in a neo-liberal world, from teachers, nurses, social workers, youthworkers (if any are left) – all subject to ridiculous efficiency, cuts and demands, outcomes – all to the exclusion of breadth, inclusion, time and care. All to the exclusion of the purity of professions and vocations and just bad management and policies. Its no wonder young people are blamed, for to say that society has a responsibility – might mean funding those who work with them properly.

Young people are just Bored? or 6 other reasons why young people are on the streets.

THEY’VE GOT NOTHING TO DO! 

YOUNG PEOPLE ARE JUST BORED!! 

So goes the common story about why young people might be on the streets. But, aside from those who do detached youthwork, might there be actually other reasons why young people might be there. Even in a much disputed small scale research by YFC recently revealed that a large % of young people liked being on the streets with their friends. And strangely, when I speak to young people about being on the streets, they may say that they’re bored, but this is merely to provoke a conversation about trying to get free activities, especially on meeting them for the first time. It is often just a defence mechansim. watch young people week by week in the same space and its not boredom. The streets have meaning, and are space for more construction, than ‘just because they’re bored’. What it also implies is that other activities are boring to them, and the streets are a chosen space of entertainment to cure boredom. The streets hold danger, creativity, sociability. Why else might young people be on the streets?

  1. A Place of Freedom – to be themselves, without the gaze of adults. It might be the only place they can choose to be.
  2. A place of escape. Beyond the personal choice, young people might find the streets a place of safety to escape from any physical, emotional or intellectual hurt from inside a home, and this needn’t be ‘abuse’ – just family life that causes personal stress and anxiety
  3. A place of power. In this space, albeit usually a public one, young people get to make choices about who, what and when happens, about the resources, activities, and people required, about who is popular, and who is important. About who is in control and makes decisions. It is a power they often don’t get the opportunity to exercise elsewhere. 
  4. A place of Creativity. Where there are possibilities to explore, the encounters with adults, the shops, buses and people around. A place to make up games, to race, chase and play. To make up games, to try new things.
  5. A place of social learning. Where the groups and gatherings form, where people are social (more social than inside).
  6. A place to challenge the social order and to create one. The only space left to make a mark. to gain attention, to cry for help. The public space. Its a place of community where knowledge is shared and community develops that is hidden away.

And these are just 6 reasons. There are at least 6 others. Often young people are more social being on the streets than those inside. They display more sociability that the young people who are transported to sports clubs or training. They use creativity to make things happen, that can often be regarded as disruptive, but only because there are restrictions enforced in the public space like, No ball games, no skateboarding. Yet most of these rules single out young people specifically. Young people grow up ‘not allowed’ and controlled, so the streets might be a space of freedom and place to provoke and challenge, often they are barely enforcebale. just a statement to provoke and discriminate: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/02/no-ball-games-haringey-council-children-play-obesity.    To hide behind a hoodie. To escape being projected on. To create a space where they require power and responsibility within their own chosen group. Sometimes we need to recognise that there is positivity within the space of the streets, that young people might actually benefit from being there. Better to keep them there then, meet them in their space, understand the community they create and recognise the positives it gives them, often contrasting with the rubbish they feel in other areas of their lives.  Moving young people to a building…. nope its not usually what young people want. They want to be free, and free away from them.

Christian Youthwork: Visiting young people in their homes.

If we’re honest, we all feel ‘at home’ in a wide variety of places. From the comfort of our dining table eating homecooked food, the lounge listening to music, out for a walk along the beach, there might be many places where we might call ‘home’ – it could be the allotment or the shed, or riding a bike – anywhere! Image result for at homeHowever, have a moment to think about being a young person, when you were a young person – ‘where were the spaces you liked to call ‘home’?  was it your bedroom, the park, a bus shelter – where was your space. Its funny that theres less spaces that might feel at home for a young person – a space to get away as many places might feel ‘not theirs’. Do a google search for images ‘at home’ and teenagers hardly feature in any that have pictures of indoor interiors.

A friend of mine, a very creative and inspiring friend, did a study on the the concept of Home and young people, as part of this she asked young people from the project she was working in in Scotland to use a disposable camera to take photos of the ‘places they called or felt at home’ and yes there was a number of photos of bedrooms, of peoples homes, but also park benches, bus shelters, parks and climbing frames – these were places where young people felt at home, a space away from sometimes shouting, from chaos, space to smoke, a space to gather thoughts. Image result for park bench dundeeFor some of the young people, they took photos of the youth work project sofa, the pool table, the room where they sat and drank coffee. Home felt like many places for young people.

I wonder whether for those of us in Christian faith based Youthwork, we have to take seriously the concept of visitation. Terminology for our practice might have looked like ‘detached’ or ‘street based’ or ‘community work’ – all are perfectly valid. But what if we took seriously the concept of creating home, or visiting young people in their home space? 

From a Theological perspective, there are examples of God making visits, or promised to make visits; Joseph promises that God will ‘visit’ them ( Gen 50:24), It was said that in Jesus , ‘God visited his people’ (Luke 7:16). The root word is epi + skopos, not to over see, but to ‘go and see’. Jesus himself visited people in their homes.

I am Just reading ‘The Pastor as the Public Theologian, by Kevin Vanhoozer (2015), and in describing the ministry of visitation, suggests that; “The purpose of visitation, like all other forms of the ministry of the word, is to communicate the gospel by embodying Christ, Gods love for the world. To love the people of God means going to see how they are getting on. Only when Pastors come to see the context of a persons life can they minister in particular ways that direct people in the way of Jesus” ( p155)

Visitation is one way that youth workers can participate in Jesus Ministry to the poor, the sick, dejected, ignored, struggling, alone…

So, i think theres two things going on. One is to identify the places, or create places for young people can call a place of home.

the second is to visit them in those places ( with the exception of their bedroom)

There might be pressure to do, when we visit, what we do when we visit is communicate by visiting in the first place, visiting a young person in their place of home, the bench, the park, the street and asking how they are getting on. Visiting them, not just meeting them where theyre at. Creating home and Visiting.

How important might it be to create the right kind of space in our youth work provision where young people can call it ‘home’ – not just a place to go once a week, a space where they can relax, kick back, make their own cups of tea, a place to maybe not call their own, but to feel like it could be. What of the sterile, multi use building – very effective & efficient – but is it ever ‘home’ or ‘homely’ well of course it could be. with a little imagination and investment in second hand leather couches! And if we genuinely meet young people in their home space out in public, then all the better.

How much easier might it be to host conversations about life for the young people, about their direction, about beliefs and faith, in a place where they can call home. A place where we might continue to visit together. It is about placemaking and making places out of empty spaces.

As Nigel Pimlott, in youthwork post-christendom 2008, suggests: 

if a by-product of this coming alongside is that such young people are set free, then this will be a cause for rejoicing, but it would be hoped that the primary reason for being there was just that – being there”

What can the church learn from Rio 2016? a list of 10…

So, the curtain has closed on the most recent of Olympic Games, in Rio, Brazil, the GB team have had their most successful, and congratulations to them by the way, especially the late night cheering for Jason Kenny, Bradley Wiggins, Laura Trott and Mo Farah. Various blog posts have been written about the legitimacy of the Olympics, and the cost of each medal- from essentially public money via the lottery (a lottery that most Christians who wrote these blogs probably hardly plays) , but the questions and reflections from the Olympics might be those that the wider church might reflect on.

  1. Not investing and planning for what looks like its weaker event is an embarrassment. Apologies for the suggesting that the Paralympics is ‘weaker’. But not investing in this has been a critical weakness and legacy for Rio 2016 and the IOC, an embarrassment. And , if the world is looking at sport and criticising it for this fallacy, then might the church, in thinking about its so called ‘weaker’ churches,. or weaker communities want to think about how these are people and areas that need not to be forgotten but built up.
  2. Investment in Sports in junior levels takes many years to find national recognition. And even this involvement is nothing without the support of parents. But from the days of GB ‘just pleased to be there’ at the olympics (even i remember when we won just one gold) A culture shift has been needed, and investment and strategy in Junior sports, just so that the Laura Trotts have the platform to be successful at the very highest level. Investment in sports may have made the nation healthier, but only 67 people at the top will adorn the newspaper coverage.
  3. Whilst the GB team and funding prioritised sports it knew it could win Golds in – ie the more successful sports effectively got more money, to get better exposure, and more sponsorship.. and at this olympics the GB team won medals in more sports than ever (more than the USA). Might a strategic approach to the next generation of the church be appropriate and one that has long term impact in mind. Can new cultural church be grown in forgotten communities, like the athletic coach find the next super star.  And good coaching is important – like good discipleship.
  4. The Media shows us that culture is still anti female, even in the most successful celebrated females in society. What does that say to a church that might be hell bent on being relevent and taking the media as one of its cues?
  5. Really important aspects of society are too much at times to keep focussed on forever, the distraction of sport in the olympics has been welcome, but that doesnt mean that important aspects like Syrian boys lifted from rubble, Brexit and other important stories are forgotten. The church has responsibility not to be distracted from its mission, of providing hope in dark places, in a way that the olympics has been able to do so.
  6. The Olympics is set within a specific culture, and this has had a huge effect. The blame of the empty seats in the grounds has laid squarely with ‘the hosts’ but even with a huge population is a ticket to an olympic tennis match, or swimming competition really a priority for someone who is struggling with food, shelter and daily survival. Churches are too in local contexts, national, and imported marketing and franchising of essentially the cultural products of Christianity – a ministry event, however good, is limited by culture. If the church buys the notion that ticket sales maintain ministry – then which settings is this going to appear to be successful?
  7. Real cultural legacy in Sport involves more than money. It involves people like me, and you reading this to be more involved. Involved coaching local sports teams, involved going to the gym, involved creating opportunities for our children to play sports, and not moaning that a tennis racket costs £20, but we shelled out £400 for a PS2. The church and its future is a similar participation activity.
  8. There are people that dont get sport but like the Olympics. There are some people who dont like sport and dont watch the olympics. There are people that love sport but hate the olympics. Humanity is a complex bunch when it comes to Sport, its a similar complex bunch when it comes to faith, religion and participating in it.  Does the variety of the Olympics lend itself to be inclusive, is it a personal connection to an olympian, is it the drama of glory, or the national pride. Or the story of the ongoing glory, the 4th gold, the triple triple. Without the narrative, man running for 10 seconds isnt that important.
  9. The Montage at the beginning of last nights TV programme was pretty lengthy, detailing the clips of all 67 GB medalists, their best bits. If there was a Best bits of the church montage for the last 4 weeks, or 4 years – what would it say?
  10. Finally, during the Olympics, (those of us who watched it), we dreamed, we hoped, we scored every hockey penalty, every Mo Farah step, every Liam Health Row, every Peaty Swim, every Daly and his partner (who the media also forgot) Dive. When we think of the church – what dreams, hopes and encouragement do we on the inside give it, do its spectators give and have of it.

What might be on your list of what the church could learn from and be prophetically challenged by the Olympics?

 

 

 

Detached youthwork and pokemon go!

Whoo hoo! Young people are not inside playing on xboxes! !!

They’re now outside wondering around wiggling their phones around, meeting at points and buildings finding pokemons and spots. Collecting items and having battles, and playing Pokemon Go! a game that is using the public space as the landscape for a series of challenges and interactions.

At least they’re outside.

So, what to do on detached?

Find the spots and wait for the young people to arrive? – could do

Set up a mobile Charlie brown like lemonade stall and give out drinks at the spots?

What it means is that young people are as much in the space of the streets as the driver is who is only following sat nav. The world is a game to be guided in by GPS, 4G and a camera.

For the detached youthworker we might see young people who wouldn’t normally be around or used to the outside space. Places that have their own cultures , rules and territories, being momentarily taken over by a new phase.

Given the conversational nature of detached, we get to hear the fads and fashions as young people tell us when they adopt them, yet this feels different in that its taking the game to the streets and reshaping how the street is viewed.

What about interrupting the pokemon players.. is it advised? , I guess we have to be even more conscious of stating who we are to them which we should anyway. But we would be interrupting and is this wise?

And if we’re aware of being strangers to young people finding the space, it’ll be worth being vigilant of those who might take advantage of the space and contact young people who might do harm. But then there’s always an element of protecting young people on detached so this is no different.  Maybe we help them when they can’t find locations, or walk into lampposts…?

The good thing is that young people might be out and about, yet they’re not really bored in the space or even showing the body language to be approached in cold contact so engagement is likely to be limited. Unless of course we can help them find their next spots or zone, and Detached youthwork has always also had that element of helping people find their way.

Maybe if we can’t beat them, join them.

Remembering that not every young person is playing and can have access to play. And conversation with the regular young people might still be more appropriate. Will the gamers just be part of the outdoor culture for a little while. Effectively what Nintendo wii was for serious gaming. Just a hobby or passing interest.

How long might it last, can we really see young people playing in cold northern cities in November?  Maybe, but the summer might be interesting..

Detached youthwork- Starting conversations, building from the context

A common question in detached youth work training is ; ‘how do you start a conversation with a young person we meet on the streets?’

Now of course,  the conversation doesn’t happen without due preparation, or without having done some observation of the area and even the groups of young people, but when it comes to the crunch moment – what do you say?

It’s made a little more difficult as there isn’t an activity in a building to start conversation, or being in a school or youth club so then this could restrict what could be said. However in the space of the streets, and parks – young people are more likely to have actively chosen to be in this space, at their discretion and doing activities they want to do and have planned – rather that whats in a building. (and to be honest with the staff shortages in centre based work, having conversations with young people can be fleeting anyway)

The easiest way is to respect the context of the conversation and ask about what is in the space.

If I was being Biblical id say it was like Jesus walking with the disciples on the Emmaus road, he hears them talking and he asks them what theyre talking about ( Luke 24:17), or when Philip catches up with the Ethiopian in Acts 8, the man is reading aloud from a scroll, so Philip asks him about what he is reading. Both conversations happened in the public space, both seem to follow a pattern of inquisitive but respectful questioning based on what the receiver hears.

As Calvin argues ‘the church needs to become more accustomed to hearing’ (Calvin Commentaries, 1958, p7)

What is heard is in the space. So is what is seen. So taking the cue from Philip example, in which Philip respected and took his cue from the context, the detached youthworker who also interrupts the space of the young person is to do the same. or at least as I’ve found starting in this way is the most effective, as it shows that you are respecting the young person and being interesting in them in the moment.

Being in the space as an interruption means that we have to respect the context, what is already going on, find ways of interrupting respectfully to earn respect back, finding something to build on a conversation.

It can be common for the conversation to close up when something from outside of the context i brought in, and it risks the moment. For many young people thats the school question, but i have had fights on a high street when i mentioned football. It wasn’t something the young people wanted to talk about, and it proved to be something that they didn’t share in common.

The other thing is that the environment, of the two biblical incidents above, and most of the times on detached, is determined by those already in the space. It differs from an example of street preaching or street evangelism, as often the environment is dictated by the evangelist, with an activity, a stall or shouting from the text themselves, it is then for the passer by to react , reject or refuse (or ring the police, depending)- now it might be that a message is shared in these experiences, and thats fine – but it is much more provoked in terms of the environment – and can be uncomfortable.

Maybe in the context of a public park or community estate, the context of this space determines a difference than a more neutral communal space of a town centre, the space for the usual evangelists and other sales type people. In an activity space there is space for activity.  Only seeing people once might force the hand – this isnt the case on regular detached. So how you start is important – and respecting the context of the space that you’re joining the young people in is.

And so if it is a case of building what is already there- its a good idea to keep your senses open to take things in, to listen to the context, to witness the events, to enquire, to ask, to receive gifts that the community gives.

After the opening questions, then theres often the banter and testing, the challenges and sparring. There will also be further cues in those questions to talk about further things, again thats where the listening is, to build on the script being spoken and respond appropriately.  The important thing in starting out is to respect the space, respect it as that’s where the young people have grown up, where they play, where they find meaning, where they have

The important thing in starting out is to respect the space, respect it as that’s where the young people have grown up, where they play, where they find meaning, where they have identity. It’s not our role as detached youth workers to destroy that by judging it, it’s to be accepted within it.

Starting right is so important, and respecting the context is usually the best way to do so. Taking a lead from it and improvising the script as young people realise that you have respected them is the best way to go – then challenges can happen…

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Millenials dont exist

Millenials dont exist

Millenials don’t exist – People do

A Generation doesn’t exist – People do

The poor doesn’t exist – People do

Post-moderns dont exist – People do

Generation Y doesnt exist – People do

Christendom cant be reacted to – People can

Secularism is only grasped at – People are real

The lost arent anywhere – we’ve lost them.

No one is reached- people are met and encountered

Let’s collapse the language. All attempts to know about people before knowing people. People are given to us in God’s world, so are their gifts. Lets make spaces to meet people an open up places where God is found with and in them. Call it engagement, call it love.

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