Young people are online – no need to neglect it
Young people are online, whether we like it or not. Their digital life is an essential part of their daily life, whether we acknowledge it or not. Young people use digital media, they use digital tools for organization and information matters, communication or entertainment. A similar picture can be seen all over Europe: Young people are online, wherever in Europe. This is a fact, not an illusion. Still, it is not always recognized by all those, working with young people.
Where are youth workers in the online world?
Throughout Europe we cannot discern a homogeneous picture of youth workers skills and activities online. This has mainly to do with different frameworks for youth work and digital media: A strong focus on digitalization e.g. in Finland correlates with lots of activities and high skills among youth workers on this matter; on the other extreme, some youth workers have to deal with a ban of digital media and tools. Unsurprisingly, thus, digital youth work evolves at different paces within Europe.
Their digital life is an essential part of their daily life
Digital media and technology can be used either as a tool, an activity or a content in youth work.
Does digital youth work exist?
“Digital youth work” refers to the use of digital media on three levels: as digital tools, as channel to conduct activities online or with digital media and as digital issues as a content. Digital youth work can be online or offline or both.
The working-definition of the expert group in 2017 read:’Digital youth work means using digital media and technology in youth work. Digital youth work is not a youth work method – digital youth work can be included in any youth work setting (open youth work, youth information and counselling, youth clubs, detached youth work…). Digital youth work has the same goals as youth work in general, and using digital media end technology in youth work should always support these goals. Digital youth work can happen in face-to-face situations as well as in online environments – or in a mixture of these two. Digital media and technology can be used either as a tool, an activity or a content in youth work.’
In other words, yes, digital youth work exists in various shapes: Examples range from youth information, youth consulting, gaming, media competence, digital literacy projects, outdoor projects or cultural projects. Such projects exist all over Europe.
We are not far away!
“Digital youth work” does not necessarily imply that it only takes place online. It rather means to shift the focus from today’s activities towards the online-world of young people; to recognize and cherish their knowledge and experience, to empowerment young people in their online behaviour; to help them increase their skills and strengthen their competences.
Digital competences of youth workers? Attitude and learning fields
In order to be able to fulfil these tasks as a youth worker, new competences are at stake. An agile mindset is a good start: to be open minded, interested and willing to start the conversation with young people. But a lot more is there to learn and develop: 1.) To develop a good understanding about the importance of the digitalization changing young people’s worlds. 2.) To be able to plan and design digital youth work. 3) To raise youth workers’ information and data literacy, 4.) To learn how to communicate online, 5.) To dare to be digitally creative and to support young people in such creative processes, 6.) To take care of online safety and 7.) To reflect one’s own work and keep on developing.
Let’s go! We can do it! Digital youth work: here we come!
No matter, where you as a youth worker are right now: digital competent or not, ignorant or aware of the digital world of young people: There is always a next step, you can go! Play a game, that young people play on their phone! Be happy, that they come and tell you about their online activities! Go, get a smartphone with enough memory to test new apps! Try new tools and ask your kids! Go for it! It is also a lot of fun!
Find the final publication of the EU expert group here:
by Barbara Buchegger (2018)
Barbara Buchegger, educational manager saferinternet.at and chairperson of EU expert group on digital youth work (2016/17)
Photos: © Juha Kiviniemi