- Youth workers are educators. Typically when we think of educators, we think of teachers in a classroom setting. Increasingly, teachers have been accused of “teaching to the test” and nothing more. Unfortunately, I do think that this is the case, although not at the fault of the teachers. They are required to teach certain things to meet the standards and Common Core, and in the end they don’t have time to go much further than this. As youth workers, we have the opportunity and responsibility to educate youth in nontraditional ways and to meet the needs of youth that are not being met in the classroom. In my job as a nanny, I consider myself to be a youth worker. One of the biggest things that I was able to teach the children I nannied for this summer that they were not getting from school (or their parents) was nutrition. This is something that is very important to me, so I was happy to share my knowledge; and they were equally as happy to learn. I started teaching them this by simply eating as I normally do. They started asking questions about the choices I made, and I explained the nutritional reason for each one. From then on, each time I made them something to eat or they reached for a snack, they would ask me “Is this healthy?”. By the end of the summer, I noticed them starting to make healthier choices and complaining less when I provided them with a healthy meal or alternative to what they were used to.
- Youth work is a social practice. As youth workers, it is our responsibility to help youth grow their social skills. We can do this by fostering (appropriate) relationships with the youth we work with, as well as helping them forge healthy relationships with their peers. Youth may come to us for advice in relationships with family, friends, teachers, etc. We have the privilege of getting to advise them in their growth as individuals by helping them navigate sticky social situations. Again, as a babysitter and nanny I consider myself to be a youth worker in that the kids I watch trust me. They share more with me than they do with their parents, which I honor and try to help them however I can. I was talking one night to an eleven year old I was babysitting after her mom had come home and she shared with me some troubles she was facing in communicating with her mom. She didn’t want to talk to her mom about something because she was scared and confided certain things to me with the assurance that I wouldn’t tell her mom. After listening to her, I felt as though it was something that she needed to share with her mom in order to solve. I kept my promise to not tell her mom but recommended she tell her when she felt comfortable. She asked me if I would stay there with her while she had the conversation with her mom. I obliged and helped her get through a difficult conversation by offering moral support. In the end, the conversation went better than I could have imagined and strengthened their mother-daughter relationship.
- Youth workers are advocates. As youth workers, we must stick up for youth who cannot stick up for themselves or are considered “less than” in society. This can be anything from underprivileged youth, to minority youth, to youth in foster care. I am currently working with a Rhode Island based group called The Challenge T.E.A.M. (Together Everyone Achieves More) that works with at-risk youth to set and work towards their goals. We help youth who would normally get pushed aside and not given opportunities to be all that they can be. I recently travelled to Washington, D.C. for training as an National Childhood Awareness Month Ambassador Training sponsored by Youth Service America and Festival of Children where I was given the opportunity to spread our idea and message and advocate for youth.
- Youth work is a welfare practice. Our responsibility as youth workers is to support the welfare, or wellbeing, of youth. By fostering healthy relationships with youth, we can support their wellbeing and keep them safe.
- Youth work is in a variety of settings. Pretty much anywhere there are youth, there is youth work taking place. From classrooms, to after school programs, to summer camps, youth work is constantly in action. I teach dance to kids of all ages; however, at the studio I notice myself not only as a dance teacher, but also as a youth worker. Our older girls at the studio (mainly ages 12 and up) spend Monday through Thursday afternoons at the studio from 3pm-9:30pm. While they are there, I get a chance to observe their relationships with each other, but also the opportunity to have relationships with them. They ask me for help with their homework, help with relationships, etc. The dance studio is their home away from home and it is our responsibility to make sure that this is always a safe and healthy environment.
- Youth work strengthens youth voices and influence. Youth are often ignored by adults because to adults, they are just kids so their thoughts and opinions don’t matter. As youth workers, we must help youth not get discouraged by this and encourage their voice. As a YSA NCAM advisor, I am getting to express my voice as a “youth” (which I was considered because I am under 22). The whole program is based on youth having a voice and creating great things. This was a wonderful thing for me to experience from the perspective of someone who considers herself a youth worker, and I plan on implementing what I learned in my own work as a youth worker.
- Youth work works with youth holistically. To deal with something holistically means to deal with every part of it. As youth workers, we can’t deal just with kids on their school work, or their physical or mental health, or their relationships. We must deal with all of these things at once, targeting them as a whole person instead of just their parts or problems.
I'm not sure how much this relates to this post, but this is one of my favorite TED Talks of all time because this young boy inspires me; and I think more kids should get to experience schooling as he does. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h11u3vtcpaY
I also Googled "youth workers ted talks" and found this link to "Best TED Talks for Youth Workers". I'm putting the link in here so I can go back to watch them all when I get a chance. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h11u3vtcpaY