Community Youth Groups
We’ve become scared of our youth. When we see a group of them on the street or gathered somewhere we take a different route to avoid them, fearing violence. But if they’re not our kids, they’re all someone’s kids, and most probably harmless.
Maybe it was always that way, and an older generation has feared gatherings of youths. But if you look at the crime statistics, in spite of ASBOs and newspaper reports, teens have more to fear from each other than we do from them.
The ProblemThe big problem is that there’s often little for teens to do, at least until they’re old enough to go clubbing and to the pub. All too often there are very few organised activities, so they end up hanging around with their friends.Without good alternatives, that’s the option they’ll take, and it’s one many have done before them. What they need are things and places of interest that don’t sound too boring.
Possible SolutionsThe youth club was fine in its day, with table tennis and a little coffee and tea bar. But even in the 1960s it seemed a little quaint and dated. Nowadays it wouldn’t stand a chance, and anything called a youth club tends to be tainted by the association.But youth groups can help address the community and personal safety of teens. It’s safer than them congregating at shopping centres or on the street, and with a good range of activities, subtly supervised.
One type of group that’s found some favour is the drop-in centre. It’s a loose kind of youth group, open one or more nights a week in a building where teens can come and go as they please.
Often youth groups also offer structured trips that enable small groups to become used to co-operating and use the idea of teamwork – small climbing expeditions, for example. These can be very positive, enjoyable experiences, not only for the kids, but those leading the group.Are there youth groups in your community? If not, and if it’s a problem that concerns you and you want to help with, then start one. Although it’s something several faiths do well, it can often be better to have one that’s completely secular.pYou’ll need a team of volunteers to help you, and all of you will need criminal record (CRB) checks if you’re going to work with youth, which can be arranged through the police. You should contact the local council, which may have resources and perhaps even staff who can offer assistance in some way. Of course, you’ll also need a building, and making use of a community centre would be ideal, because it would help give teens a sense of ownership in the place.
That’s even more the case if they have a say in how the place is decorated. If they’ve picked the colours and done much of the work, they’ll help police it and stop vandalism.Even more important is the fact that teens should have a large say in what happens at the youth group and what activities are undertaken. They know far better than you what teens enjoy – and again, helping to co-ordinate and run things give a sense of ownership and responsibility.
Of course, the hardest job will be persuading teens to come – and then to stay and become involved. It could be a slow task, and you’ll need patience. You may never attract the majority of local teens. But even a small breakthrough is progress. One of the keys, perhaps, is to offer things that interest them, not what you believe should interest them. Don’t be judgemental; adolescence is a hard enough time as it is. Let the trust between you and the kids build slowly.It’s not easy, it takes work and perseverance. But it’s a great way to make a difference in your community.