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Lockdown 2.0 and beyond...

I don’t know about you, but 2020 has been like driving along a traffic free road (in my case, in the passenger seat), but you can see that there are road works up ahead and there are those traffic lights that turn green for 5 seconds every 10 minutes. Well that’s how it’s felt this year, especially as a youth worker. We’ve sat in traffic for months, anticipating the go ahead, to have it at green for what felt like 5 seconds, before sitting back in the queue, not seeming to go anywhere. And that’s the optimistic narrative!


I speak to that purely from an activity based perspective. As youth work is relational, we have had the honour of still progressing those relationships we have, all be it over Zoom, but to what avail? We have missed the youth club, the socials, being able to meet up face to face without having to do a risk assessment in the hope of ceasing anxiety. However, we have seen that school work, social groups, home life, and isolation has created a mass influx of mental illness among adolescents. There is an ‘Imposter’ Among Us, and we can’t seem to eject it (if you excuse the analogy!), and we need to call an emergency meeting to ‘suss' it out.


Both analogies, sitting in traffic and the ‘Emergency meeting’ in the current trend, Among us, could possibly highlight a way in which we can slowly start moving forward.


Traumatic 2020


In order to make this point, I need to make a huge stretch of a statement: what young people have experienced through lockdown has been traumatic. The surge in mental illness has been caused by going through isolation, stress of school uncertainty and the future, and for many home life made everything even more difficult. The National Youth Agency released a report ("Out of sight?”) that claimed over 1 million young people with known needs have been made worse by the pandemic, and there are an estimated 2 million young people with emerging needs that have been triggered or caused by COVID-19, with many having unforeseen pandemic related consequences. Likewise, only 5% of young people known to be at risk by social services were engaging with school before Easter. The list goes on, and with Government putting blame on young people for the second wave, it feels like national abuse.


Erik Erikson, a psychologist and psychoanalyst (the man behind the phrase “Identity crisis’) explained in his most famous work The Theory of Psychological Development that 'identity depends on the past to determine the future’. In other words, how we teach young people to deal with stress, anxiety and life will become a foundation for the rest of their life. However, humans greatest coping mechanism - community - has been taken away from them. Bruce Perry, in his masterpiece ‘The Boy who was Raised as a Dog’ claims that ‘recovery’ from trauma and neglect is impossible without lasting caring connections to others. Perry goes on to express that our love for ourselves cannot come unless we ourselves are loved. “Our capacity to love cannot be built in isolation.” If we are to even go to theology, Moltmann when talking about death, puts simply that the essence of death in the abstract and ‘in itself’ may be called ‘lack of relationship’, both with God, and also with others.


A call to converse


When sitting in traffic, or in an ‘emergency meeting’ on Among Us, we are forced to do one thing, and that is communicate.


Some of the most honest conversations I’ve had have been in traffic; something about sitting together in a car, sharing in our frustration with one another, while sitting still brings intimacy and honesty. There’s suddenly a moment where a conversation turns from moaning about traffic to life, aspirations and death. I can’t help but think that our responsibility as youth workers for this time is to sit and moan about this pandemic with young people, and anticipate the moment where they are confronted with their future, their aspirations and with death. Kenda Creasy Dean & Justin Forbes allude to this when they talk about the theology of ‘even if’ in the book ‘Delighted’, where they share that our role as youth worker is to stand with young people through, as we have established through Moltmann, their own death moments, and do four things; open our arms, wait, embrace and release. We offer ourselves, our ears and our time and wait for young people to take us up on that offer. This four part act allows young people to know, that despite a neglect of real community, they are not alone, and are released to carry on with their life with that knowledge. Moltmann, when talking about life and death, explains that the question we should ask ourselves is this: “Will love endure, the love out of which we receive ourselves, and makes us living when we offer it?” Isn’t that the most beautiful description of youth work, to allow young people to receive Love, so that they can go and offer it to their world, so that they may endure, with hope, together.


Secondly, with the ‘Emergency meetings’ of Among Us, these conversations are to suss out things that do not belong. Our job is to be available, so that when these emergencies come about, we can be the voice of reason, the voice of hope, and the voice of love for young people. With that support, young people are able to identify that which does not belong, and then to help them eject whatever that is from their life, however long that may seem.


Conclusion


What young people need now more than ever isn’t really a youth club, or a ‘cool’ livestream (don’t get me wrong, I think these are great). What young people need is a conversation. If, as we established through Erikson, a young persons future is held in the decisions they make now, then we must act swiftly. We must model that life is to be done in company with others, in communication with trusted adults and with hope and love that surpasses moments of death. But most importantly we must offer this even if young people don’t accept it. We are not called to be successful as youth workers, but faithful. Young people need our support now more than ever. For the majority of lockdown, the consequences of this pandemic have been out of sight. We know the trends now, and if the statistics are right, lives depend on us. Let’s not do the easy thing, but be ready for difficult conversations. An emergency meeting is coming. We’re sitting at the red light. Are our arms open? To finish, as Andrew Root puts it “We have offered them [young people] trips to Disneyland, silly games and ‘cool’ youth rooms, not companionship in their darkest nights, their scariest of hells.”


The question we then must ask ourselves as youth workers is this: what do we offer?

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