Youth Work is Awkward

by James Fawcett November 9, 2015 A

I was chatting to Joy Faulkner the other day at Urban Hope, and we were reflecting on how much awkwardness youth work entails.

Activities can be awkward: Generally, as a youth worker – paid or volunteer – you are in the room in order to engage with young people, which mainly means engaging in conversation because that’s at the core of relational youth work!! The awkward part comes when you’re not able to do the only thing that you have to do because young people do not want to engage with you. You can end up following young people around the room desperately trying to get them to play table tennis with you, or find that young people blatantly just ignore you – Joy has a good story about this.

A phrase coined by young people is completely applicable here: ‘beg’ or ‘beg friend’ – someone that desperately is seeking a friend.

Communications can be awkward: Even if you do manage to corner ‘one’ for a couple of minutes, you rack your brain for ways to engage them in conversation, and your open questions are returned with grunts, leaving you nowhere to go. You can see that the silence is too much for them, so you awkwardly turn around and walk away, or pray for some kind of distraction, for a table tennis ball to hit you in the back of the head so you can move on.

Motives can be awkward: What am I doing here? What are you doing here? Sometimes this is the dialogue that I imagine goes around the young people minds as I talk to them;

“you are hindering my experience of this night with my friends, and actually your questions are embarrassing and the more you push it my friends are going to think that I’m a ‘dick’ for entertaining you” and/or “anyway I’m 14 I can look after myself, I don’t need you in this space – I thought you said it was my space anyway…” and/or “I don’t know you…WEIRDO!” Awkward!

Having a clear purpose can be a lot easier sometimes.

We are friendly but not friends, is awkward: We are not friends with the young people that we come into contact with; we are being friendly and yet we are holding some sort of power over them. We are ‘in charge’. Generally it is our space we are looking after, and we have responsibility for other young people there, for example. Handling that power difference is tricky.

The key to good youth work is handling the awkwardness. Can you get through it? Can you work with it? Navigating these difficult areas doesn’t get any easier but those that manage it will find that the relationship is worth pursuing.

Feel free to share your most awkward stories in the comments, they always make me laugh!!