Youforia (teenagers scare the living *@$% out of me)

Church youfworkers and youth-workers – can you tell the difference? Here’s a crash-course for you: your youth-workers work with the youth. That is to say, the young people in or around the church, whose backgrounds are middle-class or aspirational working-class, who are generally polite and, if not, are described as ‘having a few personal problems.’ If they wear hoodies, they do so unconvincingly. If they carry a knife it is probably for buttering toast. Youf, on the other hand, wear hoodies like they mean it and when they act up we call them ‘vicious little thugs’ or simply ‘the enemy’. Youf are the kids whose problems are so far removed from the experience of a middle-class liberal such as myself that even though ideologically I want to embrace them (while remaining within Safe-To-Grow guidelines for best-practice, obviously), in reality a lot of the time I get the urge to shout ‘shoo! Go away! You’re getting dirt on the carpet!’

In my mind I know what they need is the Joseph Rowntree (19th Century philanthropist with a concern for eradicating the causes of disadvantage) treatment. In the moment, I often think they need more Richard Rowntree (20th Century black movie icon with a gun and a concern for being a ‘bad mother’ and telling people to ‘shut your mouth!’).

Last week’s news saw a local story about a charity that was collecting chocolate for young offenders. My initial reaction was: ‘are you insane?! Do you know what sugar does to children?!’ I thought it was hopelessly naïve to think chocolate was going to be any help and that these people must be working with youth, rather than youf. Reading further, however, I discovered that the charity had warned people to remove the chocolates from their wrappers, as these might be used to smoke drugs. Ah, that’s the youf I’m familiar with.

Youf, of course, need prayer, resources and people who can hide their discomfort (a youfworker friend honestly once advised me: ‘don’t let them see fear. They can sense fear.’), but sometimes they also just need to be shown kindness. And as Christians that is something we should easily be able to offer: treatment that communicates that, despite being freaked out by and frightened of their behaviour, their attitude and, if we’re honest, the sheer overwhelming magnitude of the challenges they face, we see youf as valuable human beings. So bravo for the chocolate.

But kindness won’t protect you from the ultimate weapon they have: making you feel old. When you hear a kid say they are ‘catting for draw’ and have to ask them what it means (‘craving cannabis’, apparently), it is a pivotal moment in your life. It’s the moment you realise you’ve become your dad, so uncool, so disconnected from ‘the street’ you no longer even speak it’s language. And there is nothing as desperate and pathetic as a youf (or even youth)worker trying to use young lingo he does not understand. It’s like a monkey being made to play the piano: it may be cute, it may be funny, but it doesn’t breed respect and should probably be illegal. It’s like David Cameron trying to appear ‘down with the kids’ and shake off the ‘nasty party’ image by hugging hoodies or appearing on YouTube (Cameron, incidentally, was in the news last week opening a new printing press for the Daily Mail – make of that and what it says about his true attitudes what you will).

None of that is as embarrassing as the advertising scramble to be associated with the success of Facebook. IT’s bad enough when the iPhone does it. But PG Tips? Even in the credibility-bereft world of advertising, that leaves me catting for authenticity.

now, here’s a song that expresses it all perfectly. Some almost strong language and almost violent imagery, so if you don’t like that sort of thing, don’t almost watch it. My Chemical Romance (the band) said they were aiming for a Creedence Clearwater Revival sound. That and the fact that the Daily Mail hates them is enough for me.

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2 Responses

  1. Why do you have a picture of a piece of excrement in order to depict teenagers (hoodies)? No wonder some young people have such a bad attitude if this is how you are portaying them!

  2. whoops. that’s what i get for linking to images. people change them. thanks for pointing that out!

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