The following is a short article I wrote that was published in Youth Work Now Magazine (A supplement of Children & Young People Now) last week. In addition to the print copy, it can be found on the CYPNow website here.
Youth clubs do not foster risk takers
I must confess to having been a bit worried about the results of the recent Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) report Risky Behaviour and Social Activities, as it seemed to suggest that those who attend youth clubs were more likely to be involved in risky behaviour such as fighting, shoplifting and vandalism.
The study looked at young people’s involvement in risky behaviour during secondary school, the social activities they engage in, and how these may prevent or reduce risky behaviour. It found that young people who had a higher involvement in activities such as sports or attending youth clubs also had an increase in risky behaviour.
The sceptical explanation to these findings is that generic youth clubs actually foster and encourage risk-taking behaviour rather than reduce it. By socialising together, young people can have a negative impact on each other causing more of them to take part in risky activities. This negative interpretation could raise some difficult questions about the nature of youth clubs and how they are run.
The more optimistic approach is that this shows youth clubs are attracting those who most need their services. The inference is that workers are better able to engage those young people who attend and have better opportunities to challenge their risk-taking in creative and relevant ways.
From experience, I am convinced that the first option is not true. Youth clubs are not places that mould young people into risk takers. Instead they provide a setting to meet and make friends with people. These sorts of groups help to provide a sense of community for young people. In addition, research has shown that in places such as youth clubs where trust and social interaction are strong, the individuals and general community tend to thrive.
So where does this leave the DCSF report? What does it actually say about risky behaviour and youth clubs?
Interestingly, the report uses data from the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England, a nationally representative survey that follows one group of young people from the age of 14 to 25. This survey wasn’t designed to measure risk-taking behaviour and therefore doesn’t provide information about the delivery and content of young people’s activities.
It only tells us if young people said they attended youth clubs, but doesn’t tell us anything about how those clubs are run. In addition, the data showed that involvement in youth clubs is only weakly associated with a higher prevalence of risky behaviour.
Essentially, it is very difficult to draw any conclusions from the report about risky behaviour in young people and their involvement in activities such as youth clubs. If you want to know how clubs and activities really impact upon young people’s behaviour, go and spend time working at one.
You can view all my Youth Work Now articles here.