Working with young people can be hugely rewarding and sometimes challenging. Trying to understand a young person and the influences that affect them can be difficult. A young person’s world is defined by so many factors, three of the most important are family, friends and parents.
Each of these factors have an influence in the life of a young person at different times and in different ways. At the age of eleven, parents have a very significant part to play, but by the age of eighteen the parents role is very different.
As a young person transitions from a child to an adult their perspective changes and different things become important. In today’s media-driven society the pressure on young people to be connected with the latest technology plays a significant part in their lives. With the rise of social media, the friendships that young people have has become increasingly more virtual and global. It is also a 24/7 pressure on their lives.
Yet despite all these influences parents still play an extremely key role in the lives of their young people. Parents can provide stability and love in an ever-changing world. There are many studies showing that parents still have a significant influence on the lives of their young people. As youth workers, we can also play a significant part and bridge the gap between home and the outside world.
Jesus modelled good relationships all the time and especially with young people. He understood people and how to relate to them. In the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20:12 it says to ‘honour your Father and Mother’. This is the first commandment that has a benefit for you in that it promises ‘…so that you can live long in the land’. Clearly the bible puts a lot of significance on the parent/child relationship. This is further endorsed in Ephesians 6 v 1-4 where it writes of children obeying their parents and fathers bringing their children up with instruction in the Lord.
The bible also gives guidance on choosing good friends e.g. in Proverbs 12:26. A young person’s friendships and relationships are so vital to their world and have a significant role to play in their development. It is important for them to choose friends wisely.
The practicalities of trying to engage with young people and understand their world is very complex. Things are constantly changing and fluctuating. As youth workers, it is important for us to try and understand the culture and influences on the young people and how we can be relevant.
There are many factors to consider when looking at a young person’s world;
- Society – In today’s media-driven society there is a lot of pressure on young people to look the right way, behave in a certain way, and to conform. All this can have an impact on friendships and relationships. Do you choose to be with the ‘right’ people, or do you choose to be with the people who really matter? It is always a challenge for young people. Youth workers need to be aware of all these influences and keep them in mind when engaging with young people.
- Virtual Friendships – Today’s friendships are increasingly virtual. Young people are often connecting with their friends via technology and the internet, often to the detriment of the people around them. It is more important what their friends text rather than the real people they are actually with. This can compromise their real friendships and lead to an inability to communicate face to face. It is also true that these friendships are also potentially global. Gaming takes place across the internet and young people can play with anyone anywhere in the world. Is this a real friendship? You may never see or even know who you are talking to.
- Social Media – This has a big influence on the lives of young people and their friendships. There is a desire to have as many followers or friends as possible but this does not mean that they are real friends. There is a real issue with not knowing the true identity of your virtual friends – are they really who they say they are? Social media is a great way to stay connected and organise events. If your friends move away it is the ideal method to stay in touch. Face time and skype are a great way to see each other while you chat. Being able to see someone makes the communication so much more personal, you can really see emotions in faces in a way that texts just don’t provide! As youth workers, we need to keep up to date with all the social media, even if we don’t use it ourselves! If we can engage in a way that young people can relate to, we stand more chance of reaching them. If we use social media to inform them there is more chance of a response.
- Friends – There is no substitute for real friends! Personal contact and intimacy develop through shared experience. It does not matter how many virtual friends you have, it’s the friends that are there for you no matter what that count. Young people benefit hugely from having true friends. When we work with young people we often promote activities that promote team-work. This encourages them to talk and problem-solve and through these activities the bonds of friendship are formed.
- Family – In the 21st century families come in all shapes and sizes. Gone are the days when you can assume what a family looks like. For many young people the situation at home can be very stressful for any number of reasons. Some young people come from homes where their parents are not together anymore. This can cause distress and friction and just generally complicate things. Other young people have a stable home life. Youth workers can never assume anything about a person’s background. It is with patience and kindness that relationships are built and from there a deeper understanding of the influences on a young person.
- Parents – Parents play a very significant role in the lives of their children, even though children often rebel against their parents. There are numerous studies that show that parents have the biggest influence on their children, (positive or negative). Parents provide the foundation and the values that shape a young person. Often the person a young person turns to is a parent, although this may not always be the case. The parent – child relationship is constantly evolving as the child grows up. Youth workers value parents and often become a team with them. If you can inspire the parents, then you are more likely to have the young people coming along. Parents must see the value in something to pay and bring their young people. Youth workers need to build relationships with parents and young people and can bridge the gap. Youth workers must respect the young people and can offer a listening ear. Youth workers can also help young people to understand their parents’ point of view.
REFLECTION & LEARNING
As we reflect on a young person’s world we need to watch and learn and make sure that we as youth workers keep up to date with current thinking. It is important that we are aware of the biggest influences on young people and how they may be affected. Some things to consider;
- Are we building good relationships with young people, their friends and parents? How can we improve these?
- Are we keeping abreast of new technology and changing our approach to remain current and appealing?
- Are we aware of the complex nature of the young person’s family relationships? Do we know who the young person lives with?
- Do we have an idea of how this impacts on the young person eg finances, time etc?
We need to remember that we too play a significant part in the world of the young people that we meet and work with. We should not underestimate the impact that we can have, sometimes we are the only person they can turn to!
As we develop our work with Young people we can continue to develop good practice.
- Have we got current policies in place eg safeguarding?
- Are we connected with the local churches and providing the best we can for the young people?
- Prayer – we need to be engaging in prayer with and for our young people.
- It may be possible to develop our use of social media to be able to reach the young people in different ways.
- Are we providing a range of activities and residentials to engage with the young people?