Starbucks and therapy: why women work with girls.

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….



15 Replies to “Starbucks and therapy: why women work with girls.”

  1. Argh – I have just written a long response – and lost it!! Grrr!

    Interesting thoughts. In my opinion – it all boils down to the lack of good role model issue – people that can not only challenge in words, but through modelling, the focus of youth work and all that comes with it. This includes asking why we do it, why its done in a certain way, needs assessing, reflection, and demonstrating the importance of yw being about developing yp – not about the youthworker! (Although – that is of course something else altogether – providing training, support, encouragement etc)

    I have been in situations in my time in yw – and have seen people enter youthwork for the wrong reasons (at first) – but through working alongside good youthworkers, and recognising the privilege and joy of walking with yp – have totally changed and their own agendas have faded into the background.

    I am waffling now – my first reply made a lot more sense! 🙂

    Have enjoyed thinking this through


    1. Thanks Jo. I agree that many people may go into youthwork for one reason and as they grow and develop that motivation changes. Great that God is so gracious and chooses to use us despite us sometimes I guess?!

  2. In a world where most youth workers are on fixed term contracts of 1 – 3 years I have myself been pondering the value & use of all the expected one to one coffee shop time. We have no starbucks this far south so that in and of itself limits the time i want to spend in shops of a different branding but anyhow thats not the issue!

    I guess my thoughts have led me to the point where I am frustrated at being in the place of still talking about the same issues with the same people and there being none or very little change and in a world where we (youth workers) will be replaced like the latest cool tv show or gaming fad I wonder if long extended periods of big sistering (bordering on mothering) actually is helpful and generate the transformed lives I seek so desperately to see. Or sadly will this seek to create a culture where the next youth worker will inherit the same issues but hear with fresh ears and think they are the only ones to of got this relationship, will the same group dynamic issues still exsist just in an older congregation and will all that time actually of been any real tangible use? all thoughts that are running through my tiny mind even as I type …

    I think Jo brings about well the point that our generation hasnt had the role models to challenge or push us but I dont think my performance can use this as an excuse any more. I have accepted that in my past denomination I did not have the encouragement or freedom to be who I believe God has called me to be so I have backed out and moved to one where I have brilliant aspiring leaders male and female that love me, challenge me and most of all expect to see results from me. (and yes i do appreciate that not everyone is in the position to do this, I pray daily for my friends who are still battling on and I deeply respect the choices they make to keep fighting) but i guess the key thing here is that I am expected to perform, to aim higher to go deeper but am I expecting the same of the 15yr old girl drinking a latte with me? If I am honest I dont think most of the time I was!

    Jesus told the disciples to go where they were welcome and accepted and to dust off the dirt and move on if they were not and at this time in my journey with Jesus more than ever I am realising that whilst I can lay out a buffet of spiritual food I cannot force feed people who dont want to eat but want to sit at the table. The combination of all these random thoughts has led me to take a more targeted approach recently* where by, like a council based youth worker, I will work on an intervention or a plan for progress but I will not sustain one to one connections where the other party is not picking up the food for themselves. I want them to eat for them selves in fact I guess the ultimate desire is not only that they feed themselves but that they also cook the meal for others.

    Anyhow just an immediate gut response that probably only makes sense in my weird little head …
    *no guns are actually used!

    1. Gemma – glad there are no actual guns! So with you on this. I think I have reached saturation point with some young women (can I say that) as we seem to go around in circles talking about the same things but without them ever moving forward. The idea of being more purposeful I think is very important. Thanks

  3. On phone so short additional comment – totally agree with Gemma that we can’t use lack of role models as an excuse – but maybe those of us who have wrestled with it and at least started to come out the other side (whatever that might b!) need to become more intentional in our modelling. I had a bit of a fb discussion with someone the other day who said Christians should always ask questions and engage in further expository study whilst bible reading. In an ideal world perhaps we would all do this, but let’s face it – some people are just not wired that way and do need extra help, encouragement and motivation. I think the same applies with yw practice – some of us will b able to push through and grow and reflect etc whilst others may need need more mentoring and modelling to challenge thinking and therefore practice. It’s certainly led me to increase the amount of intentional mentoring and modelling I do.

    I hope that makes sense and doesn’t sound as though I hav it all sorted or think I am better than others – but that I acknowledge that God has wired me in such a way that I can self motivate and push through – and that I hope I can use that to help others who may b wired in a different way. 🙂

  4. Thanks for your post. I think it makes some really important points. I would say you are right to link it to wider Christianity issues. Our Christian culture is not exactly one of discipleship and I think this is partly where the issue lies. Deep vulnerability is tough, and in order for us to be in a place to disciple others, surely we must be practicing this often painful and uncomfortable process ourselves. If we are able to do this it usually brings out our issues and insecurities, so we can then be sure we are doing youth work and other types of people work for the right reasons.

    Also I’m not sure about single sex youth work, I think it has it’s merits, but girls and boys need healthy modelling and education about how men and women should be, how we should relate towards each other etc. For example my church is doing regular teenage boy breakfasts because many of the boys in the church are in single parent famillies, but I would suggest the girls from single parent families are just as in need of male role models as the boys.

    That’s my thoughts for now… 🙂

  5. Sometimes meeting women who say ‘I’ve got a real heart for working with girls’ I’ve had the sense that their motivation is actually the girl in them, so I think there’s some truth in what you say.

  6. We’re not perfect, we don’t always role model well, BUT let’s not forget to celebrate the several thousand really experienced and relational women living locally around the UK who have committed to be youth work trained, and ARE today involved in great holistic and purposeful work amongst girls and young women.
    They may not look like apostles and pioneers from a national perspective but to local young women they ARE. They ARE role models who are shaping young women’s lives. And dare I say it, role modelling well – mostly!
    I say this, whilst involved this week in a review of the training and equipping approach and resources we use in GB.
    Be hopeful.
    I am as I watch and interact with a group women talking with passion about leadership training and equipping for girls and women 14+. I’m hearing words like , disciples, gifting, raising potential, skilling up, nurturing aspiration, building courage, practical …Christian distinctive, role modelling

    Having read and contributed to the Sophia blog recently I’m seeing women role models…..and their stories seem to emerge from local, relational and PURPOSEFUL experience of leaders around them.

    Maybe one of the issues we face is actually re-engaging with holistic youthwork that takes young women beyond their consumer focus and personal issues to their God given gifts, skills and call to be a contributor to God’s world.
    That takes a framework for our contact, it takes goals and activity beyond chatting and coffee. It takes stretch. Personally I don’t think this is new at all.
    Maybe the challenge is to stride away from the slide toward coffee culture chat alone that leads to navel gazing. Let’s speak up and equip great quality holistic contact that gets young women involved in activity and interest BEYOND themselves – Just as they are right now?

    PS I’m not sure either if the ‘new’ emergence of single sex Christian mission and ministry, is actually new – but then I would say that wouldn’t I, given that GB has been working globally amongst thousands of young women for 120 years!

    PPS (yes I do believe in both single and mixed gender work!)

    1. Really, really useful Ruth – thank you! I am so with you on this. I think trying to strive towards ‘stretching’ growing of young women, and running (at full pelt) from consumerist navel-gazing is where I want to be. You have summed up a lot for me in a much more articulate way than I was able to.
      I think I am in danger of speaking of trends I see without acknowledging the wealth of work that exists (and has done for a long time) that is positive and impacting. I do not disagree with single sex work – but feel it should be purposeful and not, like you say, ‘slide towards coffee culture chat’.
      I also agree that there are some great role-models for young women already out there, but I feel that the prevalence of celebrity culture may, at times be debilitating as it suggests role-models should be famous (even in Christian circles I think?!) I am all for the advocation of local hereos who model what if=t means to be people in real life.
      Thanks for your insights.

  7. i think it much depends on purpose. For my work a coffee shop is the easiest place to meet (I am a schoolsworker). Due to CPP I can’t have them in my car, or in my office. The main stubling block I see here for me is the absence of prayer, yes you can pray in a coffee shop, but for me, I find there’s just a level of intimacy that is missing.

    There is a difference between those I pastor in coffee shops and those who are in the youth group I am part of, where I can meet them at their house or somewhere else. If coffee and food brings honesty then I can do that too!

    I’ve been putting together some ideas for a local girls event and these things were exactly what I was thinking about!. would love to chat more if you want to email me

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