Unit 2.1 Digital Youth Work
This unit will offer you the content, activities and resources to understand what digital youth work is.
- To enable participants to understand what digital youth work is
- To help participants understand the importance of digital youth work for their daily practices
The learning activities in this module are aimed at supporting youth workers to build an understanding on youth work, and activities that are framed in order to support young people in understanding how to comprehend the digital needs of disadvantaged groups.
- 1 Content session with a video related to the topic
To begin with, according to the Expert group set up under the European Union Work Plan for Youth for 2016-2018, digital youth work means:
‘’Proactively using or addressing digital media and technology in youth work. Digital youth work is not a youth work method – digital youth work can be included in any youth work setting (open youth work, youth information and counselling, youth clubs, detached youth work, etc.). Digital youth work has the same goals as youth work in general and using digital media and technology in youth work should always support these goals. Digital youth work can happen in face-to-face situations as well as in online environments – or in a mixture of these two. Digital media and technology can be either a tool, an activity or a content in youth work. Digital youth work is underpinned by the same ethics, values and principles as youth work. Youth workers in this context refer to both paid and volunteer youth workers’’.
Importance of using digital youth work
Technology is ever changing. Digital media and new technologies are now mainstreamed in youth culture. Young people do not perceive their online and offline worlds as separate entities and fluidly inhabit both worlds simultaneously. Because of this, digital youth work needs a whole organisation, integrated approach and to not be regarded as a specialised service or a niche area.
The term ‘digital native’ is often used to describe young people born into the age of digital technology. However, being a ‘digital native’ does not equate to digitally literacy. Many national and international reports highlight how assumptions are often made about young people’s competency when using new technologies. In addition to this, some youth workers have a fear of technology and perceive young people to have advanced technology skills. Youth work can play a vital role here.
When used safely and effectively digital media and new technologies can be wonderful tools to ignite young people’s curiosity, creativity and confidence. It can enhance their social awareness and engagement as active citizens. It can also help to build their personal autonomy and enable them to develop new knowledge and skills, and for their voices to be heard. Outcome focussed youth development can uniquely support young people to navigate the digital world safely and become digital creators, inventors and makers – not just consumers of technology. Supporting young people to develop digital media literacy and 21st century skills is one of the most effective ways to achieve this.
However, digital youth work has to be seen not simply as a useful and timely option, but also as a necessity. The COVID-19 crisis has come to change everything and with it, effective digital transformation can be a great strength. Moreover, digital youth work is an excellent option for working with groups in remote or rural areas who do not have the same possibilities and facilities as those living in the city. Digital tools thus become guarantors of equality.
The expert group used the following working definition of digital youth work:
- Digital youth work means proactively using or addressing digital media and technology in youth work.
- Digital youth work can be included in any youth work setting (open youth work, youth information and counselling, youth clubs, detached youth work…).
- Digital youth work has the same goals as youth work in general and using digital media and technology in youth work should always support these goals.
- Digital youth work can happen in face-to-face situations as well as in online environments – or in a mixture of these two. Digital media and technology can be used either as a tool, an activity or a content in youth work.
- Digital youth work is underpinned by the same ethics, values and principles as youth work.
Table 1. Digital and Online Tools in Youth Work
Table 2. Detail of Digital Tools
The competences in which those who work with or want to work with young people in the future should be trained, so that the work truly meets the demands of today’s circumstances and the target group. So, those training needs fall into the general areas that are shown below:
- Digitalization of society
The digitalisation of society is a reality. We live in a world where everything is digitised or in the process of being digitised, and today almost everyone has a smartphone, a tablet or a computer. This leads to great opportunities, but also to great challenges – for youth work as well – especially since COVID-19 came into our lives, as we have had to adapt activities that we used to do in person to the digital world. Today’s youth is a generation of digital natives born between approximately 1995 and 2015 and also known as Generation Z. We need to know how to make use of the tools and resources they have in order to make our work attractive to them.
- Planning and designing digital youth work
A youth worker has to be able to design, implement, evaluate and know how to adapt the work that has always been done to a digitalised society and to the demands of today’s young people, to their interests, needs, habits and aspirations, so as to capture their attention, encourage collaboration and achieve their active participation in the organised activities. Moreover, it is essential to assume the importance of doing all this in order to remove barriers of all kinds, including those that are presented to young people with some kind of disability.
- Information and data literacy
A youth worker should always develop and encourage critical thinking in young people so that they have the right tools to deal with the information that reaches them and with life in general, especially in an era like the one we live in, plagued by fake news, which are very frequent on social networks. On the other hand, a youth worker must be aware of data protection legislation.
It is perhaps the most important of all competences, the foundation from which all competences are built. It is vital to really get to know young people, and also their reality, as well as the latest digital developments and their impact. Deconstructing hate speech and bullying in all its forms – including cyberbullying – is a much-needed task for those working with young people.
- Supporting young people for digital creativity
The internet offers an immense number of digital resources of all kinds that not only facilitate the acquisition of information, but also help young people to explore and express themselves, artistically or otherwise, and this is something that youth workers need to encourage, because the opportunities are endless and what they create or learn today can be of great use to them in the future as well. As part of this competence, it is important to stress that understanding how copyright and licenses work is indispensable.
Despite all the benefits of digital technologies, they also have a dark side that can be dangerous. Young people have to deal with information that is not appropriate for their age, with all the risks that this entails. They can be victims of economic fraud such as gambling, suffer cyber-bullying or grooming, or see their privacy threatened, in addition to the danger that addiction to technologies also entails. A youth worker has to know what dangers young people may face, be able to detect them and offer tools to overcome them.
- Reflection and evaluation.
The digital world is always evolving, which is why youth workers need to be continuously being informed, trained, evaluated and updated to keep up.
We recommend you watch the video below on digital youth work to develop a better understanding on this topic.