The following is an article I wrote that was published in Youth Work Now Magazine last week (A supplement of Children & Young People Now). As of October 2009, I have taken over the Last Word column on the back page. In addition to the print copy, it can be found on the CYPNow website here.
It can be better to text than to talk
The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) research on positive activities released at the end of August made for interesting reading. Back in March, the DCSF conducted interviews with 72 pairs of young people aged between 13 and 19. The purpose of the research was to understand the motivators and barriers to young people participating in positive activities, and to find the most effective ways in encouraging young people to participate.
While there was nothing immensely surprising in the report, it did highlight a number of key themes that have a relevance to all of us working with young people. For example, friendships and social circles have a big influence on whether young people participate in any given activity, and the notion of having fun is far more compelling to them than any particular achievement.
The biggest barrier identified to young people participating in activities was a lack of awareness over what is available to them. Researchers concluded what many of us already know: that most young people don’t go actively looking for information but expect it to come to them.
There’s a plethora of glossy leaflets, slick posters and flashy websites aimed at young people out there but few make it to their attention. How many flyers do youth workers throw away on a monthly basis because they sit on a stand in the youth club without ever reaching the wider youth population? Perhaps the challenge is to creatively find ways to get relevant information into the hands of young people.
A few years ago, I recall standing outside a school with some youth workers and putting flyers in young people’s hands rather than have them given out in classrooms. This gave us personal contact with young people while avoiding the “official endorsement” of the school. Yet recently a friend told me he had stopped giving out flyers. Instead he has chosen to communicate via text message, email and online social networks, asking young people to sign up to these services.
I’ve had a positive experience of using text messaging for our local groups. One club has grown from an average of 40 young people each week to nearly 80 because most of them now receive a text reminding them of the time, venue and activity.
The online aspect to communication is also interesting. It was cited in the DCSF research as the most popular way that young people would like to find out about new things going on in their area. However, the report also noted that there was a distinct lack of reliable, concise local information for young people online.
So it seems that we have a way to go in ensuring young people know what is available for them locally. If we genuinely want to see more young people participating in activities, then we need to get a lot more creative in how we communicate what is going on.