Matthias Jud is a cultural and media educator and youth worker at the Jux youth center in Lana in South Tyrol (Italy). He talks to us about the importance of open youth work in times of social distancing.
What can youth work do for young people in the current situation?
In the current situation, it is important that the young people feel that even though the youth club is closed, we still won’t leave them alone and accompany them in a different form, for example with online meetings. These meetings can be thought of as digital living rooms, a space where young people can virtually “stay” and chat, where nothing is required of them, no activities are imposed on them, but are still available to them. You can exchange your wishes, thoughts and any fears here, but you don’t have a fixed program. Instead you find here a space for your own creative freedom, just like in the “real” youth club.
Did open youth work have digital offers before or was it a big challenge to switch to online youth work?
We have always used Whatsapp, Instagram and Snapchat for communication. But it was more for informing others, outsiders, about our activities. On the other hand, the current situation is about continuing to accompany the young people who have so far come to the youth club. This means that much more interaction is required, which is why we are now increasingly using video chats because we have to foster the relationship with the participants. And that works better if you convey a feeling of closeness not only through audio, but also through a video presence. Before the relationship was established in the youth club, now we have to create it in the video chats.
Which platforms or digital tools do you use for the current digital open youth work?
We are currently working a lot with ZooRoom, not to be confused with Zoom, because the latter is currently used a lot for distance learning and meetings.
The advantage of ZooRoom is that you can see beforehand who is in the virtual meeting and only then decide whether you want to enter the virtual room. You can see from the outside, so to speak, whether there are a lot of people, whether something is going on or not. So this is very similar to a real youth club, where you can simply drop in spontaneously, without needing a special link invitation. This is an important difference to some other digital applications, because without an invitation there is no hierarchy from above, no administrator or organizer. The adolescents only have to register once and can freely meet and make appointments with each other. The youth workers just get the message that someone has just entered the room, as they would have noticed in the real youth club. You can then take a look from time to time and see what kind of communication takes place, how the behavior is and if necessary, intervene.
The youth workers just get the message that someone has just entered the room, as they would have noticed in the real youth club.
But we have to keep in mind that not everyone has access to the computer at a certain time
Are there other forms of digital youth work that you offer?
Yes, there are moderated activities that are started, directed and completed by the youth workers, for example on Instagram, Whatsapp and Discord. Gamers, for example, like to use Discord as a means of communication and we can see that they have the least problems with these digital forms of communication right now. But we have to keep in mind that not everyone has access to the computer at a certain time, or maybe not the necessary quiet. In this exceptional situation, all young people are busy with distance learning; in many families, young people have to share the computer with their siblings and possibly even with their parents. It is therefore very important to offer activities that are not bound to a certain time.
Did young people themselves also have suggestions?
Yes, for example educational games on Quizapp, Kahoot, i.e. platforms that they already knew from school. Or Scribble.io, where you have to draw something, and the others have to guess. Also, the popular game Catan exists online and what is currently played a lot in the online clubs is Werewolf online, up to 16 players can participate. Many board game producers also offer their board games online, e.g. on www.Boardgamearena.com.
Are as many young people coming to the online meeting point as you normally have the visitors in the “real” youth center?
No, if only because only a limited number of participants can enter the room on the platforms. At ZooRoom that is for example 12. But with twelve online participants, everyone has to be very disciplined so that you can still hear and understand each other. This may work for companies if the boss leads the video conference, but for young people it is certainly better for communication if the online meeting is a bit smaller, so with fewer participants than in a real youth center.
How do young people receive your online offers?
We have a lot of young people who take part, but there were also young people who actually belong to our regular guests in the real youth center, who do not come to the online meetings. Either because they are not so interested, or because they have found other alternatives, or because there may be problems with the Internet connection. Then it is up to us youth workers, we have to actively contact these young people, e.g. via Whatsapp to accompany them in a different form
Then it is up to us youth workers, we have to actively contact these young people