Technology and Youth Work
August 01, 2018
In the realm of human services, we have the simultaneous challenge and benefit of working in a field in its relative infancy. We can look back at our foundations and see (perhaps more than most other sciences) just how far we have come in the last century. Furthermore, the subject of our science and work is constantly changing — western civilization and the people who live in it are very different from how they were even a couple of decades ago. As professionals in such a dynamic field, we must therefore always have our eyes open for those changes, both in our science and in the world we live in, and be willing and able to adapt to them.
One of these crucial changes has been in how we interface with the world. Ten years ago, in searchof my first job, my parents told me to “pound the pavement.” This meant handing out a dozen copies of my resume and asking to speak to the manager. When my father became unemployed a few years later, he understood just how ludicrous those instructions were, as he had to send out more than 100 resumes – all online – and learned that any personal contact with management is the best way to ruin one’s chances. Today, my contact with him is all online. My degree program is online. I met my wife online. Most everything I write, everything I read, everything I learn from is digital, and for many of us in any workplace, a crucial skill has become what I refer to as ‘Google-fu’: the ability to look up anything on the spur of the moment and find the correct answer online. Seeing my young cousins grow up, their education is largely digital as well. They’re encouraged to be able to do their own research and come to conclusions using the resources available to them, and this is the ‘young person’ that employers are expecting to hire and schools are expecting to admit.
With communications technology being so crucial in our day-to-day professional lives as independent adults and youth, it would be doing the individuals in our care a disservice to deprive them of this experience. Not only is it socially detrimental to them in the present (Boneva et al, 2006), but it makes them essentially unmarketable as skilled workers when they are ready to leave services. Youth should be encouraged to find as many of their own answers through the resources available to them, whether the resources are online, in books or through professionals. In doing so, youth will develop independent thinking and research skills that will not only help them in their future education, but also in a workforce that seems to increasingly require individuals to learn and develop independently.
There are potential problems caused by internet and computer access, such as gaming addiction, access to pornography, online bullying and scams, which our clients may be more susceptible to due to their elevated psychological needs (Li et al, 2016). When it comes to sheltering clients from such things, however, it needs to be remembered that our goal for them is always to be growing independence and that, at some point in their lives, they will be prone to these things regardless. As we now do with sexual education and drug awareness, these concerns need to be highlighted early on when the individual still has peak support. It’s also at this time when appropriate and productive computer and internet use can be encouraged. Best judgment should be exercised in this exposure. As we deal with some very complex individuals in our line of work, certain individuals may not be psychologically ready access to certain aspects of technology – for example, someone with history of copycatting violence should not have full access to games rated for violence.
I would even suggest that the school system and therapeutic trajectories include education around computer use and internet etiquette, to address these particular problems head-on and give individuals the opportunity to use computers productively. This could include emphasizing instruction in program suites like Microsoft Office that improve one’s employability and aptitude for education, along with research considering the at-risk demographic. This would allow us to better address concerns and give youth the best chance they have at an independent life in our modern world.
Boneva, B. S., Amy, Q., Kraut, R. E., Kiesler, S., Shklovski, I. (2006). Teenage communication in the Instant Messaging era. Oxford University Press.
Li, D., Zhang, W., Li, X., Zhou, Y., Zhao, L., Wang Y. (2016). Stressful life events and adolescent Internet addiction: The mediating role of psychological needs satisfaction and the moderating role of coping style. Computers in Human Behavior 63. pp. 408-415.