Lately, I have been thinking about some of the work I do with young women and thought I’d share a few things! This post looks at some of my thoughts with regard to ‘why women choose to work with young women’ and I plan to do a follow-up looking at ‘how we go about work with young women’. These are my own reflections from practice, they have no empirical evidence and come as the result of sleep deprivation and currently, as I type, red wine!
Anecdotally it appears to me that a growing trend in Christian youth work is single-sex work. Particularly I have noted the increase in woman who go into youthwork looking to work with young women. The draw of days on end in Starbucks, solving issues to do with ‘self-esteem’ is massive it seems. I am not averse to this particular way of working. I love cafes as much as the next person and see the value in working one-to-one and in small groups looking at issues. I am concerned however that this trend is indicative of a deficit in the training and development of those going into work with young people (especially women), rather than a deep-seated, planned, needs-led approach to informal education.
Being involved in delivering youthwork training for a variety of people and groups I’ve noted that very often work with young people attracts those who a)are looking to work out an ongoing issue for themselves vicariously through their work with others b) are looking for a safe place to continue on being an adolescent themselves c) are looking for an excuse to delay meeting the real world. There are obviously lots of others who are going into youth work to see young people supported to become more, and all that. And it would be naive to think that nobody goes into working with people to fulfil something in themselves – in fact that can be appropriate if acknowledged and handled in a transparent way. But my concern is that if those working with young women are looking to solve something in their own lives they could project their own issues onto unsuspecting others.
It seems to be a thread in conversations I have that many Christian women feel they lack a wealth of female role-models. Who are the apostolic leaders? Who are the pioneers? Who are the really good reflective practitioners? My concern is that rather than seeing this as a provocation to be those people to succeeding generations, many women going into youth work are looking to fill the need for affirmation, security and worth through some pseudo-therapy in starbucks. Their meetings with young women are more to do with themselves and their issues than the development of those they meet. I guess I’m treading a thin line here! I am not alleging this is what happens in all mentoring sessions. I am not alleging this is what happens in any one-to-one work, but I guess it could be. You see sometimes I think we are very quick to ‘buy into’ stuff in Christendom. We want to be doing the ‘latest’ kind of thing. We want that funky youth cafe, or that edgy worship event, without necessarily reflecting on the fundamental issue of ‘need’ and the appropriateness of each approach to help facilitate a meeting of that said need. The ‘coffee shop’ thing is really valuable, but I worry that it may just become the ‘thing to do’ without a reflection on why and how? Or worse it is something that those going into work with young people need and because they have not had that need met – the need for real relationship; the need for challenge; the need for reflective space – they are seeking to quench that with a saturation of lattes and ‘how do you feel?’ chats.
I have to declare that all these thoughts are a challenge to me as much as a challenge to others. I know that I am still a work-in-progress and my own motives and approach need to be reflected upon. I guess I am just asking whether we need to be doing more as community to try to help people work through things in appropriate spaces, so as to avoid them seeking means that may be inappropriate and damaging. A 15-year-old can not solve my deep-seated issues about my body – only I can do that – with the support of God and others around me. I worry that we are setting up those going into youthwork to fail. We have been short-changed and now we are seeking to deal with that deficit through our work with vulnerable and impressionable others – treating them almost as vessels to be used to our own means. I hope I am way off mark with this. I hope I have just reached the sleep-deprived insanity thing. I hope the short-changing of generations of women can begin to be addressed in our work with young women. I hope….