Posts Tagged ‘BBC News’

“I’d die if I didn’t have my BlackBerry.”

Recent comment from young person

According to the news, a UK survey shows that TV is being pushed aside by mobile internet devices in the lives of young people.

Among 7-16 year olds, 61% have a mobile phone with internet access, and use that phone for an average of 1.6 hours a day. Before and after school, young people are now more likely to play with their mobiles than watch TV. On the topic of social media, here’s a short, very well made, and interesting video I though would be worth embedding…

If you do any work with young people, you don’t need me or the BBC to break this news to you – I’m sure you’re already perfectly aware of how significant mobile phones and social media are in the lives of young people today. The above quote would be fairly normal in my youth work experience and I’ve become quite accustomed to having conversations with young people who are simultaneously holding umpteen other conversations with friends via BBM (BlackBerry Messenger), or Facebook.

I’m all for engaging with young people and communicating in ways with which they’re comfortable: I’m happy to accept Friend Requests on Facebook (so long as I actually KNOW the individual), and I’m comfortable having mobile numbers and texting young people.

In fact, there are lots of ways I could go with this post: we could talk about how, with 600+ Facebook/BBM friends, our young people are growing up with a more diluted concept of what friendship is; we could talk about the trend of sexting (sending revealing or explicit photos and/or video to others, sometimes with the goal of meeting for sex) and how, according to research, 80% of 16-24 year olds have used either a smartphone or the web for some form of sexual contact; or we could talk about some of the practicalities of using social media and the need for transparency and appropriate safeguards. As is often the case, it’s real life situations that lie behind these posts, and one of the reasons why I noticed this particular news article was down to the fact that for the past 2 hours, I’ve been having a text message conversation with one young person who’s in real need of pastoral support.

Though useful for certain things, BBM, texts and Facebook are simply no substitute for face to face contact. There’s no depth to the conversations you have through typing – even something simple like the tone of what’s being said is very tricky to read, and something intended to be clear and innocent can be easily misinterpreted. Even phone conversations are no substitute for face to face – although the conversation can flow more freely than through text, you’re fundamentally unable to ‘listen’ to what the person is not saying: in their body language and such like.

I’d much rather sit down with the young person I’ve been texting this afternoon and just listen to what they have to say. But for now, they feel most comfortable with text messages, and that’s fine. In the past I’ve had long email conversations with young people in need of pastoral guidance and advice, and often these emails have been the precursor to deeper, more fruitful face to face conversations about their situation and where the gospel speaks into that situation. It’s my hope and prayer that this will be the case here, and that this individual will get the support they need.


If any professional ever had a claim to the title ‘Jack of all trades’, it would surely be the church Youth Worker. What other profession can boast such diversity in roles as: counsellor, entertainer, artist, cleaner, cinematographer, people manager, taxi driver, web developer, teacher, caretaker, DIY expert, technology guru, chef, referee, befriender, musician, theologian, administrator, shepherd and pastor? That’s by no means an exhaustive list, and very few of these roles feature on my job spec. Why is it that Christian Youth Workers will almost certainly have to try their hand at most of these roles (and others we might add) throughout their time in ministry?

Part of living in a community is being aware of the needs around us, having compassion on those in need, and being flexible and prepared to meet the needs of those in our community to the best of our ability. This is community living, and it’s not just limited to the realm of Christian Youth Work. Most of the staff team at NCC will relate to the feeling of being a Jack of all trades too.

What do young people need?

Youth UnemploymentSo the question is: what are the needs of the young people in our community? Let’s first differentiate between perceived needs and actual needs. As bible believing Christians, we know that the actual need – the fundamental need – is to hear the Gospel, to trust in Jesus and be transformed from the inside out, under the lordship of Christ. Obviously, few young people will approach you directly looking for the antidote to their sinful heart condition, and demanding an introduction to the Lord. For the young person, their perceived need will be quite different, though not insignificant. This is where we need to be alert to the perceived needs and flexible enough to work with them. And as we begin to meet these needs, we actually find ourselves with many more opportunities to address that more fundamental need.

For those within the 16-20 year old category in Niddrie, getting a job is one of the biggest perceived needs. In fact, quite a number of the opportunities I’ve had with this age group have come off the back of what you might call careers advice. So we can go ahead and add ‘careers adviser’ to the list above…

Careers advisor?

This week, UK Chancellor George Osbourne outlined plans for a £1bn package to tackle youth unemployment, which has been on the rise since the turn of the millennium, and hit a record high of 1.02 million in the months running up to September this year.

The ‘Youth Contract’ proposed by the coalition government hopes to provide nearly half a million new opportunities for young people, including apprenticeships and work experience placements. Employers are being offered cash incentives to take on apprentices between 18 and 24 years old.

[Read more about the Youth Contact scheme on the BBC: “Clegg: £1bn scheme will ‘provide hope’ to young jobless“]

How does this apply to us? In Niddrie, we have young people who want a job but aren’t motivated enough to find one, as well as young people who are desperate for a job, any job, and will do whatever it takes to get one. It’s the latter group that I seem to find myself working alongside most often.

What I do is help guys put together their CV, help fill in  job applications (web based and written), provide potential employers with character references, and coach young people through interviews – I’ve even loaned out one of my ties. All the while I’m keeping an ear to the ground for any jobs that might be going among employers I know personally, and looking for ways to develop the relationships I have with these young people beyond ‘careers advice’ to genuine friendships where the gospel naturally comes out. It’s a different approach to that of all the other youth organisations and careers agencies (and there are many!) that are working in the community. Not better… just different. The sad reality is that there are loads of employable and motivated young people who still can’t find jobs in the current climate, especially in areas like Niddrie, and that’s disillusioning.

Micro-businesses and apprenticeships

With so few suitable jobs going, what more can we be doing for these young people? Of course we can continue to offer advice, polish their CV’s and point them in the direction of suitable vacancies, but is there a way in which we can actually provide gainful employment ourselves? Can the church be that vacancy? As I read these articles about youth unemployment and the government’s Youth Contract proposals, different individuals and situations were brought to mind and I couldn’t help but dream of the possibilities.

Some of the ideas we’ve had in the past have been focused on training; for example, young people working alongside Christian tradesmen, learning new skills and being exposed to the gospel. This would be a more accessible, manageable step towards an actual trade apprenticeship.

Lately, we’ve been thinking about helping young people establish micro-businesses: 1 or 2 person businesses with little overhead costs and a reasonable profit-margin. These might include: gardening, cleaning, pet-sitting, selling crafts, or anything we can imagine. I know of a guy who makes bracelets in his spare time out of high-tensile parachute chord which can be undone in such a way as to provide a length of chord of several feet for use in emergencies. He makes them while watching TV each evening and sells them on eBay to Jack Bauer wannabe’s and makes a fortune!

Might we offer Christian young people church-based apprenticeships, covering the gambit of work we do as a church? Maybe training them in adventure activities and outdoor education, giving them experience of work with the elderly, serving in the café, or in the schools? Wouldn’t it be great if, in the not so distant future, the church could plug into initiatives like the government’s £1bn Youth Contract scheme, and actually offer young people short term employment and training opportunities ourselves?

Nick Clegg says that the £1bn scheme will ‘provide hope’ to the young jobless. It would certainly be great to see more and more young people finding work, but at the end of the day we’re not careers officers. We know that the real need of our community goes beyond jobs and financial security, important though these things are. So we, through whatever means, seek to share that real, deep-seated, lasting hope that we have through the gospel.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2)

Pray for us as we think these things through.

A couple of weeks back, I wrote a post about our decision to invest more heavily in the children’s work at NCC. As a ‘youth’ worker, I’ve always been a bit reticent about doing children’s work – I don’t really enjoy it, though I recognise the need for it!

Dr Helen Wright, head teacher of St Mary’s Calne, Wiltshire and President of the Girls’ School Association was quoted this week by the BBC, concerned by what she describes as the:

“Seeming erosion of the innocence of childhood.”

Dr Wright has picked up on one reason why, in Niddrie at least, we’re seeking to invest more specifically in children’s work. Namely, the traditional distinctions between ‘child’ and ‘young person’ are becoming increasingly blurred.

Read the article here.

Dr Wright regularly speaks out about issues related to young people and education, including the dangers of the early sexualisation of girls, the focus of this particular BBC article. In it she mentions a number of worrying examples of this kind of sexualisation that we’ve probably read about or heard of in the news: the sexy outfits, the make-up, the pole dancing classes.

From my vantage point as a youth worker in Niddrie, I agree with much of what Dr Wright has to say. In Niddrie we see:

  1. The glamorisation of violence, with the latest neighbourhood fights uploaded direct from mobile phone to the internet.
  2. The children for whom dealing and drug use are just part of normal home life.
  3. The hoards of young girls, all glammed up, bussing into the city centre to do whatever it is they do there – usually trying to persuade well meaning adults to buy them booze so that they can stumble up the streets, giggling and screaming, hoping that someone is paying attention to them.

It’s no surprise to us that we are living in a “moral abyss” – that’s been the human experience since the Fall. Even innocent children are not truly innocent. (If you disagree with me on this point, you may be interested to read this article by Paul Tripp). The Bible teaches that we are all born sinners (Psalm 51:5). On top of that, sinful children copy what they see other sinful children and sinful adults doing.

Dr Wright puts her hope for salvation in education to “break the cycle”, where she seeks to enlist the help of parents and schools in the battle. But what exactly does that education entail? What is our strategy for helping the lost, confused, and rebellious kids we see all around us?

This week, I’ve been reminded of the fact that no amount of sound logic, clever reasoning or education will change the heart of a sinner. You can put forward all the facts and figures you like, you can explain all the potential consequences, and fill young people (and adults) with all the knowledge they need to make good choices, but none of these things touch the heart of the human problem, which is the problem with the human heart. We’re slaves to sin, until we find freedom in our slavery to Christ (John 8:34, Romans 6:20-23).

I’ve been really convicted to pray earnestly for the children and young people I know – pray that God, in his great mercy, would change HEARTS and minds, through the gospel as we live it out and speak it out. Our vision in the children’s and youth work in Niddrie is: ‘to see young lives transformed under the Lordship of Christ’. I’d certainly argue that living out the gospel in community is a form of education transformation, even if that isn’t what Dr Wright had in mind. We’re always educating, whether we’re aware of it or not, we can’t help but teach.

According to the BBC, British children are among the least happy in the developed world.

This is the breaking news that we’re living in a materialistic world where parents are working longer hours to make more money, and as a result are spending less time with their children, which, according to the Unicef research, is the thing the children crave most. They’re compensating for this lack of quality time by splashing out on all the branded toys and gadgets to placate the children.

I don’t think this is a phenomenon limited to middle-class, working professionals phoning in their views to Jeremy Vine on Radio 2. I’m always amazed, every Christmas in Niddrie, when parents in the community tell me what their children are getting as presents. I know for a fact that many of them are unemployed, claiming benefits, and are really struggling for money. And yet, the kids have their own laptops, as well as an X-Box/PS3, and carry several hundred pounds worth of phone/mp3 players in the pockets of their £175 G-Star jeans, or designer handbags. It’s perceived to be really important in this culture to be seen with all the right kit, and so people get themselves into greater debt so that they’ll get the respect of the community.

So with British parents searching high and low for answers, where should they be turning? We need to turn to Christ and scripture. Just as human beings were created with a vertical need for companionship with God, they are also created for a horizontal relationship with other people. The Unicef research should be no surprise to bible-believing Christians. Any relationship, if we want to make it work, demands considerable time investment. And the relationship between parent and child is phenomenally important. Parents: no one else can out-influence your children. Ephesians 4 commands fathers to bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. How are fathers to father their children, if there’s no time to father them?