One of the things that really disturbs me is when youth workers make the comment that the reason they have built a rapport with the young people they work with is because they make an effort to look like them, talk like them and do the things they do. Relating to another person doesn’t entail becoming that person.
Often we see that adults who do not work well with young people are those who are adultist in thinking– they believe that their ideas, actions and traditions are better simply because they are older. Adultism stunts authentic communication and makes young people often feel as if their thoughts and ways are less than when compared to those of adults. When fostering positive youth development, adultism, then, does not fit into the equation.
However, what I’m seeing now, to avoid adultism, is the new trend in the field of youth work where youth workers in and entering the field, alter who they are or stunt their own personal growth to maintain or begin relationships with youth who may be more difficult to get to know. Whether it is mirroring the way young people dress or choosing to speak the same– using slang terms and certain accents– these adults believe that it is more advantagous to be like the youth in more ways that are visible in order to make that first and lasting impression.
I disagree with this reasoning.
I ask that you think about the adults who helped you during your youth who made the biggest impressions. Was it the ones who emulated the way you and your friends behaved, or was it the ones who were compassionate listeners, supportive shoulders to lean on and fair decision makers? Though our times have definitely changed and youth are more progressive in many areas while less developed in areas that were more accessible to us when we are young, the fundamental needs structure is the same. Youth need us to be adults, not big children.
It is our duty to show pride in that which makes us who we are– adults. If we demonstrate that it is more advantagous to look and act young and immature, then we feed into the notion that many youth already have of adulthood being tired, boring and a drag.
The challenge is making sure that as an adult, you are not fitting the sterotype of being oppressive, close-minded and stuck in your ways. You can be progressive, “cool”, and easy to relate to without selling out and masking that which makes you a mature and interesting adult. When young people watch adults who are happy in their skin and are not playing a role, they respect who you are and look forward to their own growth as young people. Youth don’t want youth workers who want to be them. They want and respect youth workers who show them that being who they are and who they will become is not so bad after all.