The joy of working with young people


Christmas is increasingly associated with stress and striving, the overwhelming desire to have a celebration that is Instagram-ready.

An artsy Christmas card featuring the whole family in matching festive pyjamas? A dinner spread to rival Nigella? And the presents under the tree to materially express your love for them?

I like joy as much as the next person – I like Christmas and its associated celebrations as much as the next person. As an uber-fan of Brussel sprouts, this is the only time of the year when I can celebrate this stellar cuisine with minimal judgment. (Also Marks and Spencer have a Brussel sprouts drink and it’s amazing and I won’t hear otherwise!)

But a recent event hosted for Find your Fire, Doorsteps’ youth leadership development programme, had me reflecting on what joy really is.

JOY IS… FUN! To mark the end of the term, we took our Find Your Fire cohort for a night of bowling followed by an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. They had an amazing time! They loved letting their competitive edge run free.

In fact, one youth worker returned from the bathroom to find the young people he was competing against had ‘helped’ him by taking his turn for him, and they couldn’t explain why not a single pin had been knocked down!

We weigh down young people in our society with often unattainable expectations. We demand from them perfection, in behaviour, academic performance, extra-curricular activities, engagement with every pressing social issue, whilst not giving them the freedom to act their age, and whilst not giving them the space to wrestle with their emotions and their hormones.

Our Christmas event for our teenagers was indiscriminate fun. When you free young people from their burdens, even temporarily, joy bursts forth.

JOY IS… RELATIONSHIP! I love being a youth worker, I really really love it! Young people have this way of attaching themselves to my heart and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Of course, it’s not all rosy, but it’s such a rewarding part of my job. Young people don’t just give their trust away freely. You have to prove to them that they can trust you.

One of the big joys that the Find Your Fire youth team came away with after our Christmas celebration was how our relationships with the young people have really grown not just with each other, but with us as youth workers.

A young person who completed the programme last year fed back that he really valued having positive relationships with grownups, relationships built on mutual trust.

JOY IS… BEING LOVED FOR WHO YOU ARE! Teenagers can sniff out inauthenticity a mile off, it’s one of their more disarming skills. We work with young people who are often criticised just for being who they are, or they feel uncomfortable in their own skin.

So we work with them to help them to articulate what it is about themselves, their skills, their characters, that is worth celebrating – and then we celebrate it. One of the particular joys from our evening of fun was seeing the young people confident and comfortable in who they are, and not feeling like they have to conform to fit in.

It’s been a term of hard work that has presented myriad challenges, but it truly has been a joy.

There is more work to be done, however, and at Find Your Fire, we can’t wait for the obstacles and opportunities our young people will bring in 2018.

Hannah Barr is Doorsteps Project Manager for Viva


Photo credits: Keenan Loo, Priscilla Du Preez, Lacie Slezak