“… [T]he key is attitude, having confidence in young people, having affection for them, having enthusiasm for them developing in their own particular ways… And of course listening, adults listening, taking interest. And the rest is up to the ingenuity of the workers and the young people to make it happen.” In this extract, the youth worker discusses humour as a tool in youth work and the values central to the profession.


Interviewer: What do you think your greatest achievement of your career is?

_MG_7878Youth worker: (laughs) I don’t see it as my greatest achievement, I see it as, the pleasure was enabling young people to do the things that they wanted to achieve, and that was the satisfaction. Ok, it was a good feeling, but the achievement was largely the achievement of the young people, it wasn’t mine, I was facilitating it. So it was no miracle. There’s one moment, I look back on it and find it amusing. I was in a club and a group came in, all of whom I knew, who were out to do over a kid who was in the club. And they’d all got weapons, mostly involving scalpel blades. One of the mothers worked in the scalpel factory and she’d embedded large bits of wood with scalpel blades. There was a risk, I mean these were very vicious weapons. I mean, if you seriously intended to hurt somebody, there was a possibility that someone would be grievously hurt. And you couldn’t get near the telephone, so you had to deal with it. And I stood by the door, trying to stop them getting to the room with the lad they were trying to get, and my colleague sat with the lad they were trying to get and kept him quiet. And I just sort of joked with them, I wasn’t going to let them through, and joked and took the piss out of what they were trying to do for about a quarter of an hour. And they were a nice lot, but they were in a state.

The key is attitude, having confidence in young people. They were decent kids, but they’d got really worked up. They could have done something which was out of character. And after about a quarter of an hour, the one with the biggest mouth comes up to me and says, “you know what the trouble with you is?” And I said, “no, but I’m listening”. And he said, “you don’t take anything seriously”. I’d mostly just been taking the piss out of them, and at that point he chucked his weapon under the table tennis table, and all the others chucked their weapons under the table. We got the lad out, he got thumped a couple of times, but he wasn’t injured. Of course he had been a shit, he’d really crapped on his mates, he had done wrong, but he didn’t get injured and no-one got a record. It was done through a fraction of respect…

I: And humour…

_MG_7879YW: And humour, yeah.  Ok, other people might have done it differently, but for me that was the way that was going to work. Hairy memories and very fond memories, I’m pleased I was given the freedom to operate in that kind of way.  It happened at that time and I’m sure it couldn’t happen now.

I: I sometimes think with that kind of thing, young people want to be taken seriously, the gang stuff, the knife crime stuff, it’s about them wanting to be taken seriously, and actually sometimes the worst thing to do it to take them seriously for that. So this isn’t the way to get taken seriously. I’ll laugh at you for that. I’ll take you seriously for something else, but not for this, it completely disarms them. Laughing at someone can be quite disempowering! So for young workers coming up today, or for people around the world looking at setting up youth work, for you are there cornerstones, principles of youth work or is it about an ethos, an attitude…

YW: I think the key is attitude, having confidence in young people, having affection for them, having enthusiasm for them developing in their own particular ways. And for them making decisions, controlling elements of their lives. And adults taking that seriously. And of course listening, adults listening, taking interest. And the rest is up to the ingenuity of the workers and the young people to make it happen.


Photo credits: Alex Rankin

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