Mentors, teachers, advisors. All could be used to describe a youth worker but what do we really do?
Youth work is the personal and social development of young people through informal education.
That is the wordy description but it's much more than that. It's about building and developing relationships with young people to promote a smooth transition into adulthood. As well as an easy-going approach to teaching them the way of the world and how to survive in it.
Part of our role as youth workers is to be available for the difficult questions which teenagers often have - especially questions that they may not want to ask their parents or teachers. Whether it is about drugs, sex, jobs or relationships youth workers are trained on giving guidance for these topics and ensure they are well equipped to deal with what can, seemingly be, uncomfortable topics.
One of the tools we use to achieve this is engaging and empowering them through projects or activities which they might like to do. But it's very important to allow the young people to put forward their ideas and make decisions and ensure their voice is heard. This gives them a sense of ownership and responsibility which allows them to make decisions which adults might make.
Where does youth work take place?
Youth work can take place anywhere - whether it is on the streets, in a youth centre or out in a skatepark. Often a youth centre is used as a safe place for young people to meet, hang out, relax and talk to youth workers as well as develop their social skills and relationships with others.
It also gives youth workers an opportunity to get to know young people, their likes and dislikes, their dreams and aspirations, and from this projects and workshops can be run to enrich their life as they grow up.
Where is the youth work?
In every interaction, project or piece of work youth workers must constantly ask themselves "where is the youth work?" Or rather, how is this benefiting this young person and can I do more to empower or engage this young person so they are making decisions and their ideas are being implemented. This is can be especially challenging when working with young people but it is at the core of everything we do as youth workers.