The advantage of youth work is that it can be carried out in all places where young people gather, such as youth spaces, public areas, and in the digital world, which has become an essential part of our everyday life.
Online youth work is a subtype of digital youth work. This expression refers to activities that take place online, at least to some extent.
We can operate online in two ways – preventively as online “street” youth workers or by creating digital spaces where we strengthen youth groups and communities.
What do we mean by digital space?
Melvin defines digital spaces as the digital “locales” where young people gather, with digital places giving meaning, memories, and feelings. In her article, we find that for many young people, digital places provide a constant connection to their peers, a way of validating who they are becoming and receiving emotional reassurance that they belong. With these characteristics, the web has enormous potential as a place for youth work.
What do youth workers recognize as an advantage of online youth work?
With online activities, we can reach young people geographically distant from our organizations and save them travel time and the costs of live participation. Bringing activities online makes them more accessible to young people who would otherwise not be able to participate (such as farmers and people from remote areas with poor public transport links).
Digital spaces enable more regular contacts, even in the case of remote (international) teams. Online meetings require less time investment, since they are usually shorter, more focused, and consequently more productive.
With online youth work, we can provide greater privacy and anonymity for the participants. They can decide how much and what they will share with the group, while the level of participation is very diverse: they can type, turn on the camera, and/or speak. At the same time, no one sees them entering spaces associated with particular communities (this is especially relevant for LGBTQIA+ youth, and even more so for young people who have not yet come out). Online activities may also be more friendly to young people who avoid social contact due to anxiety, phobias, and other similar conditions. Furthermore, young people can still be present even in case of illness.
Online youth work will probably not replace offline youth work, but it should not be overlooked in a world characterized by technological development and our ever-increasing online presence.
Author: Sabina Belc
Images: DALL-E from Open AI