What is the youth work question?
Over the last decade I have been asked to speak with hundreds of people who want to be youth workers. Sometimes in seminars or training courses, other times I get to do it one on one. The first question I always ask is “Why do you want to be a youth worker?” In my experience there is no other question which separates those with happy fluffy bunny and rainbow unicorn feelings from those who will truly become the next generation of youth workers. It is the youth work question. Here are a few of the answers I get that cause me concern:
- “I just really love kids”.
- “I have had a lot of trouble in my own life”
- “I have coached kids and I think I can do this easily”
- “Those kids just need someone to guide them”
- “I can keep them on the straight and narrow”
- “I’m a parent of teens, so I understand young people”
Whenever I hear one of these answers my skin literally crawls. Often broken and hurt people who look for closure to their inadequacies drift towards youth work. People who cannot answer the youth work question. It is something that youth work trainers see every intake. People who haven’t dealt with their own demons before wanting to work with young people. The other side to the coin is people who think anyone can do youth work. Its not that hard. I coach a team two hours a week. I have a teenager who I see for a few hours a day. Surely its not that hard to do youth work.
These people show a few main things that lead myself and others to point them away. First, a lack of personal insight. Second, a short sighted view of working with young people. Finally, a focus on themselves not on the young people they want to serve. If you truly want to be a youth worker it is a path of walking along side young people. It is not a time for your own issues to haunt you. It is about providing the support young people need to reach their goals.
If your answer to the youth work question is that you want to see young people supported by people who care and are well trained. If you want to see young people reach their potential. See a world where young people are seen and dealt with justly. Then you might have what it takes to be a youth worker.
Here are a few links to articles on becoming a youth worker.