Tag Archives: youth work

Youth Work in a Digital Age

Youth Work Now

I was recently asked to write an article for Children and Young People Now on ‘Youth Work in a Digital Age’. The resulting article was published in last weeks issue (15th – 21st October 09) and you can find it on the Children and Young People Now  website here.

I’m grateful to C&YPN Editor Andy Hillier for his patience with my tendency to overshoot all word limits in a first draft, and for helping to turn my original drafts into a practical piece for a print magazine.

But, with the luxury of a blog, where running to 1967 words, rather than the allotted 1500 for a spread in C&YPN, I though I would take the liberty of posting here an earlier draft, which takes a bit more a theoretical look at the question of Youth Work in a Digital Age. All comments and feedback welcome…

Youth Work in a Digital Age (v 0.1)

Where can you always find a group of young people hanging out together; chatting about everyday life and about issues that matter; planning an upcoming adventure; reflecting upon all the activities they have recently been involved in; sharing jokes; flirting with one another; having heart-to-heart discussions with their peers; and generally being young people? Ten years ago ‘the youth club’, or ‘the street corner’ might have been the answer. Today it’s far more likely to be online – on Bebo.com or MSN Messenger.

Some people have seen this as a threat to youth work as we know it – but if you had been listening in at the ‘Young people and youth work in a digital age’ conference that took place at Glyndwr University last month, you would have been far more likely to hear youth workers talking about the golden opportunities that digital technologies have created for practitioners to promote activities; to engage with young people; and to generally deliver high quality youth work.

With over 80% of young people using one or more social network sites (5 in 6 young people aged 11 – 25 were users of at least one social network site in a April 2009 representative sample study of 1000 young people by nfpSynergy) and young people increasingly turning to the internet for communication, entertainment and information youth work cannot afford to miss the digital boat.

Made for youth work?

Over recent years young people’s use of digital media has shifted from consuming entertainment and information, to creating and sharing content, being in constant communication with peers, and participating in online communities. With the right support from informal educators, digital media offers the tools and platforms for young people to move from ‘consumer’ to ‘creator’.

Working with young people online, where many of the power dynamics between young people and adults are turned on their head, can, as many workers have discovered, create an environment far closer to the youth work ideal of voluntary engagement. Youth worker Katie Bacon, who has been using the web to engage diverse groups from across Devon in decision making explains: “Online young people are often far more honest and up-front with their opinions, and the presence of the ‘block’ button that young people can use to end a conversation puts them far more in control. It can be challenging and disconcerting for workers, but once you get used to it you can see that it’s voluntary engagement in practice.”

And with social network sites very much based around peer-group interaction and relationship building, it is easy to see the potential fit between digital media and core youth work values and practices.

Even so, digital media tools have rarely been created with a ‘youth workers instruction manual’ to accompany them – so the challenge for youth workers is to work out how to understand, adopt and adapt digital media tools for their practice. It can help to think about three forms of ‘youth work in a digital age’: (1) supporting young people to navigate growing up in a digital world; (2) using digital media tools to promote and add value to existing youth work; (3) weaving the digital media tools into youth work activities – and making the most of the technology for youth work goals.

Growing up digital

Just ten years ago, young people may have only been able to be in social contact with their peers for a small part of the day: snatched conversations between lessons at school, on the way home, or meeting up for a few hours in the evening. A couple of hours spent in a youth project may have been a significant part of young people’s social time. Now, many young people live in near constant contact with peers, sharing text messages, photos and videos from phones, computers and consoles. In this world where communication moves faster, both positive and negative experiences can be ‘amplified’ by digital media; and the divide between those with access and skills to be connected, and those without can widen.

Whilst government backed education programmes such as ThinkUKnow.co.uk are doing important work educating professionals and young people about potential dangers of digital media, youth workers have an additional role in equipping young people not only with awareness of the risk, but also with the resolve, resources and resiliency to navigate dangers, whilst still taking advantage of online opportunities.

That might involve giving a peer group the opportunity to reflect upon the sorts of images, photos and videos of themselves and their friends they are sharing online – and to come to an agreement about what to share or what not to. Or it might involve workers being attuned to instances when bullying might be moving onto the web, and being ready to address the underlying bullying. Starting from young people’s experience of digital media, youth workers need to be supporting young people to become digital media literate, and for many workers that will start with developing their own digital media literacy.

Promote what you do

You can support young people to develop skills and literacy for growing up digital without touching any technology yourself, but if you want to reach out and promote youth work activities to young people for whom the internet is the primary information source then it’s time to log-on. Setting up a blog, for example, gives you an instant (and free) publishing platform where you can share news about your project and details of upcoming events – and within weeks details of what you do should be appearing in search engine results, helping young people discover and remind themselves of what you do.

Facebook Pages, or Bebo and MySpace profiles, can provide a powerful free platform for promoting projects and activities to young people – taking the message to the social network spaces where young people are hanging out. When Denise Drake updates the Tower Hamlets Summer University Facebook Page, the update is featured in the news feeds of over 250 people, all of whom have signed up as ‘Fans’ of Summer Uni. If any of those people comment on one of these updates, then their comment (and the original message) could also be shown in the news feeds of their friend networks on Facebook. News of new activities can spread quickly through the network.

Of course, one of the greatest potentials of digital media is the ability to show young people what’s on offer, rather than just telling them in text. With cheap video hosting and online editing tools – sharing videos, photos or recordings to give young people an insight into what happens at your project is easier than ever.

However, if you try promotion without participation you’re likely to be disappointed. As local authority communications expert Simon Wakeman recently explained in an interview on the Plings project blog (http://blogs.plings.net): “It’s two-way communication – having a one-way dialogue just doesn’t work! Social media blends communications and consultation. You can’t start using social media without being prepared to have conversations online.

Weaving digital media in

Digital media can be a big draw to attract young people to take part in a project. But more importantly, ensuring young people have digital skills is key to support both their participation in social life and education now, and in social life, education and work in the future.

For just about any youth work activity there will be digital media tool that can add a new dimension to it: from using online video clips as discussion starters at a youth club, to using blogging to help young people reflect upon and document an international youth exchange. And as Hilary Mason, Senior Manager at West Sussex youth service recently discovered, when using blogging as a way for young people on exchanges to China and India to reflect on their experiences and share news with friends and family back home – there are often unexpected positive impacts of using digital media: “There was a knock-on effect in the local community – with parents and grandparents who would normally not be using a computer reading and commenting on the blogs. The messages of affirmation to young people coming from family back home with written comments saying ‘I love you’ or ‘I miss you’ were very powerful.”

In weaving digital media tools into youth work practice there are often decisions to be made about what is published on the web, and how you manage conversations and communication. In the case of young people blogging from China, West Sussex youth service made sure that there were staff back in the UK to check over blog posts before they went on the web, and to address and issues that came up. “One of the main things that came up was comments from parents – we had to remind them that the blog was public communication.”

Getting started

If you’re not already using digital media in your work, then knowing where to start can be tricky. But, as the Youth Work and Social Neworking report (NYA, 2008) sets out – there are four simple steps to going digital.

1) Survey: find out what’s already going on in your organisation & find out about the digital opportunities young people are interested in. Create a ‘community profile’ of the social media spaces young people are active in (there’s no point being on Facebook if everyone you work with in on Bebo). Check what policies your organisation has on digital media, and check what technology you have available.

2) Strategy: choose how you will engage with digital media. Will you discuss digital media issues with young people but without using the technology directly? Will you use digital media as a promotion tool? In face-to-face settings? Or as a tool for online outreach?

3) Safety: check out the safety issues linked with your choice of digital media. Think about possible safety issues and how to overcome them. Most issues can be overcome with careful thought. You can find an overview of key safety issues to consider in the online Youth Engagement & Social Media guide that I’ve been developing here: http://is.gd/3Orsc

4) Skills: give yourself an hour or two to explore the digital media tools you are planning on using. Try them out – or find a colleague who can teach you how to use them. You don’t need to be an expert – just confident enough to learn as you go along, and to identify the issues that may make for discussion points with young people.

Going further

Finding your own route to engage with digital media in youth work can seem daunting, particularly when there is no set pattern to copy. However, digital media isn’t just about youth work delivery. It can also play a part in youth worker’s professional development and learning – and you will find a growing range of supportive online communities, reflective blogs, and online resources to help you explore youth work in a digital age.

Often, starting to use the tools for your own professional development, whether reading and commenting on blog posts from other youth workers, or participating in a focussed network of youth work practitioners such as YouthWorkOnline.org.uk, you can pick up the skills and experiences you need to apply digital tools in your own practice. Hilary Mason was one of the first youth work bloggers from the statutory sector, and for Hilary being able to explore both digital tools and youth work ideas through maintaining a blog at http://ukyouthblog.wordpress.com/ is key: “As a reflective tool it’s huge, both in spending time writing and thinking about what you are going to say.”

The digital world is here. And it’s moving forward at a phenomenal pace. Youth work has some catching up to do – but it also has a key opportunity and offer to make – and hopefully soon we’ll be seeing all youth work as work engaged with the digital age.

Connected Generation: 2009 unConference on online youth engagement

The social media game

[Summary: Registration open for the 2009 unConference on youth engagement in a digital age]

Some point just after the first BarCampUKGovWeb back in 2008 I floated the idea of a BarCamp, or an unConference to explore the ways in which organisations whose work involved young people could make the most of social media and new digital technologies. After a few false starts, that turned into UK Youth Online* – a gathering of over 60 fantastic folk one Saturday at the offices of DIUS in London where we had explored all sorts of elements of online youth engagement: tools and technologies; issues of safety; participation online; implications for youth workers; the social media game; and loads more. That event led to the growth of the Youth Work Online ning network, currently fairly quiet, but helping to carry on the conversations from our face-to-face event.

Since the 2008 unConference I’ve met a whole load of fantastic people working to explore and use social technologies in youth work, youth participation and outreach work with young people. From software developers and central government policy makers, to local authority web teams and front-line youth workers – and of course, many young people themselves – as volunteers, activists and innovators. However, in all these meetings, I’ve not come across a forum that brings together practitioners, social entrepreneurs, developments, policy makers and young people to get stuck into sharing their learning and building the sorts of informal and formal networks that will drive forward greater and more effective uptake of social technologies to make a difference in the lives of young people.

Summing upSo – I though it might be time for another unConference. And this is the rather roundabout way of announcing: Connected Generation 2009 – unConference – exploring youth engagement in a digital age.

It’s taking place on the 11th July, it’s free to attend, in the same place in Central London as last years thanks to Steph Grey and DIUS, and registration is now open.

So, erm, get registered if you can join us, and spread the word!

More details below…

Discussions

If your work involves young people, then understanding and engaging with social media and online technologies is a must. This event is an opportunity to explore big ideas, and practical realities of weaving the web into work with young people.

As an unConference, the exact programme is created on the day by the participants, who will convene conversations, provide demonstrates and share their insights. However, themes that are likely to be explored include:

  • Communicating with young people online - from promoting youth services and positive activities, through to hosting two-way dialogues with young people in online spaces.
  • Social networks & youth participation - how can Facebook, Bebo, MySpace and Ning be part of the participation workers toolbox? And how does social networking have the power to change the face of participation?
  • Digital inclusion for young people – making sure that all young people have the access to technology and the skills they need to get on in the digital age;
  • Practical action - how to make sure online engagement is based on safe-and-sound foundations; getting policies in place; and making sure the technology and staff skills are available to make the most of online engagement;
  • Hands-on learning – exploring different social media tools that you can use in your work, and sharing tips with other participants about the best way to use them;

Bring your own sessions!

An unConference is created by the participants – and it works best when everyone comes prepared to offer a session. Your session could be a short presentation of a project you have recently worked on using digital media for youth engagement; or it could be a topic for discussion; or an issue you want to get the insights of others on.

When you register you have the opportunity to suggest a session you may offer.

How the day works
If you’re never been to an unConference before and are wondering what to expect – here is a rough outline of what the day might look like: Planning out the different time-slots for the day

  • 10.00am – Arrive, coffee and introductions
  • 10.30am – Suggesting Sessions – participants will be invited to announce and introduce sessions they would like to run during the conference. These will be assigned to a time-slot and break-out room. There will probably be 6 break out rooms, allowing 30 different sessions to take place during the day.
  • 11.00am – Parallel Session 1 – some of the sessions just announced will take place and you can choose which to take part in.
  • 11.45 – Parallel Sessions 2 – more sessions taking place
  • 12.30 – Lunch
  • 13.15 – Parallel Sessions 3 – more sessions taking place
  • 14.00 – Parallel Sessions 4 – more sessions taking place
  • 14.45 – Break and review - A change to check if any new ideas for sessions have arisen throughout the day so far, and to plan in a few extras
  • 15.00 – Final sessions
  • 15.45 – Wrap and close

You will get to take part in at least five sessions on key topics in youth engagement and new technology. If you find a topic you want to discuss is not being covered, you have to opportunity to suggest a new session to explore it – and the facilitators will do their best to make your new session idea take place.

We’ll probably end the day at a local coffee shop or pub for those who can stay in London a bit longer.

Who is behind it?
The 2009 unConference is being organised by Tim Davies as a voluntary project.

The venue has been kindly supplied by DIUS, arrange for by Steph Grey.

Other volunteers will be involved on the day. Check http://www.connectedgeneration.info for more details.

Sponsorship welcome
We welcome sponsorship to help us cover the costs of the event. Sponsors have the opportunity to display materials at the event and to place items in the conference bag – as well as to feel good about making a great event take place!

Any questions?

If you’ve got any questions then drop a line to tim@practicalparticipation.co.uk
or give me a call on 07824 856 303

*Note: The 2008 event was not associated in any way with the charity UK Youth, and at their request we are not longer using the ‘UK Youth Online’ title for future events.

A veritable festival of youth and social media

The 26th and 27th September should see a veritable festival of events linked to youth participation, youth work and social media down in London. In fact, I wish I'd seen all the connections earlier to brand the whole lot as a festival.
Here's what is coming up:


  • Research launch of the Youth Work and Social Networking report (26th Sept, 2.45pm till 4.45pm) – the work that seems to have taken over a large chunk of the last six months of my time. Along with Pete Cranston, I'll be sharing what we've discovered, providing both a theoretical and practical account of how youth workers and other professionals working with young people can support young people to navigate the risks and make the most of the opportunities of online social networking, and opening up a discussion of different uses of social network sites in youth work.
    The research launch is free to attend, and if you want more details or to reserve your place, get in touch with ritak@nya.org.uk


  • UK Youth Online open space event (27th Sept, 10am till 5pm, followed by a trip to a local pub) – on Saturday 27th we'll be opening up the agenda even more to explore all things linked to young people and social media. Thanks to the kind support of DIUS this free event will provide space for practitioners, academics, innovators, funders, managers and others interested in the impact of new technology on work with young people to gather together and explore a wide range of issues through short presentations, discussions and demonstrations.
    For more details about UK Youth Online check out the network website, where you can also register to take part.

Please do pass details of all these events on to anyone who you think might be interested.

 

And what if you can't make the 26th and 27th September, or if London is a bit of a trek for you? Well, get in touch and let's get planning for some more local festivals exploring youth, technology and social media…

Three aspects of blogging to promote positive activities

I've just been interviewed for an article about how blogging can be used to promote positive activities. Using blogging as part of promoting youth work was only one part of one of the 7 reasons why youth workers should be blogging – but in the interview I found that it can be usefully broken down into three parts.
Three aspects of blogging to promote positive activities

  1. Blog for search – share information - many young people expect information from multiple sources – and they will expect information to be available online. If a young people have seen a poster or a flyer for your event then there is a good chance some will try and google search details of the event later on – either to check what it was all about, or to check the time/venue etc.

    A blog provides a very quick publishing platform to get information out there and to get it picked up by search engines. A dedicated blog for your youth club is going to be far easier to keep up-to-date than pages on a local authority website. And it's quite likely to perform better in search engines for particular queries about your events and activities.

    You can also take the headlines from a blog and get other websites and services to automatically 'pull in' that information – so that news from your blog is dispalyed in the places where young people are online (for example, you can pull the headlines into a Widget on MySpace, or to a Fan Page on Facebook, or you can set up a service to automatically text the latest headlines to young people who have subscribed…)


  2. Blog for young people – share media – at just about any event with young people there will be photos taken and video clips recorded – and it is highly likely these will be shared online. Rather than ban photos and videos at an event because of safety concerns – youth services can take on the role of providing safe online photo and video galleries from events – where images are only displayed with consent and where any young people can ask for their images to be removed if they wish.

    By becoming the destination for photos and videos from an event two things are possible:

    1. A service can justifiably ask young people to limit their own sharing of photos and videos in ways which may not be safe;

    2. A service can build an audience who come to see the photos and videos, but then find out about other activities and opportunities to get involved. (Although – don't forget to make sure you tell people the web address where they can access the media on your blog)


  3. Blog for you – consultation and conversation – once you've build a community around a blog with media and content attractive to young people – then you can start including blog posts that ask questions of young people, invite comments and help you to improve your services. You can share information about upcoming decisions that need to be made, or you can create blog posts that ask a question of young people – and you and they can use the comments feature on a blog to engage in conversation about the issues in question.

These three parts may even be seen as 'stages' of starting to blog to promote youth services – as whilst blogs provide an instant publishing platform, it does take time and intentional effort for them to build a regular readership and a community.

Perhaps we will have a session at the UK Youth Online unconference on the 27th September 2008 to explore blogging to promote positive activities. If you're interested then do come along. UK Youth Online is a free and co-created event – and you can find more details about it, or register to be part of it, here.

Over on the Youth Work and Social Networking blog

I've tried to keep the plethora of reflections and shared bits and pieces from the Youth Work and Social Networking project over on their own blog – but I'm aware some people have been expecting me to post them here also. So, here is a quick run-down of some of the posts, documents and resources you will find over on the Youth Work and Social Networking project blog.

There are also a number of others posts pointing to recent research and online resources.
The final report of the Youth Work and Social Networking project will be launched on th 26th September in London – so if you would like to be at that (or at the UK Youth Online un-conference the following day) then please do get in touch. 

Pitching for Detached Youth Work 2.0

[Summary: Can you help us scale up training, process and practice innovations to take us towards Youth Work 2.0]

I’m on the way home from two days of 2gether08 festival. It’s been an intense two days of idea exploration and this afternoon I took advantage of a design clinic session from Think Public to focus down some of the ideas I’ve been exploring with others over the festival into a 3 minute ‘pitch’ to the assembled crowd at the closing plenary. Well, at least, that’s what ended up happening. Here’s a bit of an overview of how it happened:

A diary entry from Thursday 3rd July 2008.

2pm. Standing outside the Think Public shed at 2gether08 festival wondering whether or not to approach them and take up my booked slot exploring Youth Work 2.0.

2.10pm. Decided to step forward. Talking to Think Public team, and with Raj from the Innovation Exchange. Trying to explain what youth work is again and to sketch out the challenges facing youth workers such as:

  • filtering and blocks;
  • a skills/confidence gap;
  • technical issues with social network tools that limit interaction between under 18s and over 18s or that make it tricky for a professional to prove their professional identify in the space;
  • a lack of clarity about exactly what codes of conduct should apply to interaction in young people’s spaces online and how it works to ‘go to where young people are at’ in the online space;

2.30. Got it. Detached youth work is far easier to explain than general center based work – as there is no real formal education parallel for people to get sidetracked onto. We’re going to focus on detached youth work 2.0.


2.35. Building a story about the problem; the opportunities; and the possible solutions (training, negotiate with young people the code of practice for youth workers in SNS space; develop support for young people’s peer-education).

Raj brings us back to a conversation from yesterday and to a story that draws out the online detached youth work contribution. “Detached youth worker on MySpace notices mention of recent gun/knife crime on young people’s profiles. Becomes aware that many are thinking of carrying knives. Invites those young people to in-person local workshop / group work sessions / event. Sends personal notes to one or two with signpost to useful resources. Suggests that people might form a SNS site group to campaign against knife crime – and after a while drops in a note about how the young people who have joined that group could apply for Youth Opportunity Funding to promote it locally. As worker has been present for a while, there is already an established relationship with the group to enable this to happen.”

2.40. 2gether08 team approach. Do we want to pitch? Raj has to head off. I’m on my own… erm – go on then, let’s pitch this idea.

2.45. We need some graphics. Panic to find images online. In the end we take a photo of my ‘social media on little bits of paper cards’.

2.50. Practicing a three minute pitch. We’ve got to go and practice at 3.20.

3.20. In the cloak room with other people pitching for rehearsals. Meet Jonnie Moore who will be chairing session. Realise that as we’ve chucked out the cloak room volunteers we’re going to have to keep getting people’s coats for them whilst trying to practice. Invite the cloak room volunteers back in. Run through pitch in my head. Getting rather nervous.

3.45. Steve Moore suggest we hold the pitching sessions in the open air. Sounds good. Less pressure. Start to feel more relaxed.

3.55. In the open air. Heavens open. Ah.

4.15. Rain isn’t stopping, so back to plan A. Pitching in the Theatre. Heat levels and humidity in the theatre at oppressive levels. Now nervous again.

4.35. Time to pitch. Stand up and give a three minute overview of:
What detached youth work is

  • What the possibilities for detached youth work online looks like
  • What the blocks that hold it back are
  • The need for (1) training; (2) youth-adult negotiation about youth work 2.0; (3) support for peer led work online.

4.38. Positive noises from the audience. Seems to have gone ok. Certainly has helped me clarify some of what we need. Pitch over. I think it was being caught on video. So perhaps I’ll share that soon.

4.55. Listening to other people’s pitches. They all end with a really clear ‘call for action’, or ‘request for help’. I didn’t have that in my pitch very clearly. Hmmm, missed opportunity? But I’m not sure what my call for help would have been.

5.30. onwards. Great conversations flow after the session. Still not quite as focussed on youth work as I want… but useful none-the-less.

20.24. Writing all this up. Realise that we’re going to be doing (1) in Rotherham in a few weeks, and (2) is coming up as part of the Youth Work and Social Networking project when I’m down in Devon at the end of July. Hmm, looks like we might already be building the solutions. But on the very local level. Now all we need is a model to scale all this up.

Ah-ha that was the call for help/action that I missed. What I need is help to scale this stuff up. Any offers?

Creating the UK Youth Online network

200806071439.jpgI've been looking for a while for a space where all the conversations around work with young people and new technologies/social media/web 2.0 can come together.

I've not found it. So I've set one up.

So – if you're interested in exploring what social media means for youth services, participation projects, IAG, or any other organisations providing support, advice and activities to young people – do come and join us over on the UK Youth Online Ning network.

You can create your own profile, find others with shared interests, post questions and share your learning.

And if you're on a local authority network and you find you can't access this site because of a web filter, do get in touch and we'll see what we can do to get the block lifted…

 

 

Who is there already?

Visit UK Youth Online

Youth Work and Social Networking – interim report out

Picture 16 Just a quick pointer to the Interim Report of the Youth Work and Social Networking project I've been working on with Pete Cranston over the last few months.

This turned into a far longer report and piece of work than I'd anticipated – but I hope it sets out some clear foundations for the next phase of research – working on the practical 'How To' of moving from where we now, to a place where an effective youth work perspective and practice in responding to online social networks is in place.

You can read more on the project blog over here…. and I'd really welcome any feedback or reflections through the comments or by e-mail.

Youth and social networks: 10 articles that have influenced my thinking

This is a post I've been wanting to put together for a while. Hopefully the phase 1 report from the Youth Work and Social Networking project I'm co-researching with Pete Cranston will be out soon (sending if off for formatting tomorrow…) – but as that looks like it will be about 15,000 words of literature review, survey and focus group write up, I thought it would be useful to put together a list of the literature that has most influenced or challenged my thinking.

The works below may not explicitly address young people and social networking directly, but they all offer useful context and insights. I can't promise that I've managed to adequately take account of them all in my writing (indeed, I'm quite aware that I haven't – for that I'd need to be working on this full time rather than having the day or so a week I have right now) – but I hope that offering a summary of them here helps others in following these trains of thought….

Perspectives on online social networking and social network sites:

1) boyd & Ellison: Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship.
I've been to far too many events lately which have billed themselves as talking about social networking when in fact presentations and discussions have covered just about anything internet related but social networking. boyd and Ellison's formal definition of social network sites is a really helpful 'centre of gravity' for thinking about online social networking, and the discussion on danah boyd's blog post on the subject is particularly useful.

For the Youth Work and Social Networking project we tried to look at the activity of online social networking, through in effect our focus was on social network sites (although in an ideal world we would have been able to extend our investigation to online social networking with gaming etc.).

2) Larsen: 35 Perspective on Online Social Networking
I only found Malene Larsen's work half-way through putting together the Youth Work and Social Networking project – but it provides some fantastic insights and and conceptual frameworks for looking at online social networking. The 35 Perspectives on Online Social Networking are a particularly useful tool for reflection in thinking about the wide range of responses different organisations and individuals have to social networking (ranging from the 'consumer perspective' and 'body and sex perspective' through to the 'friendship perspective' and the 'group work perspective'.

Social networking, youth and identity:

3) Larsen: Understanding Social Networking: On Young People's Construction and Co-Construction of Identity Online
The fourth perspective Larsen introduces is 'The identity perspective' – “Social networking sites are spaces for identity construction. Here, young people continuously constructing, re-constructing and displaying their self-image and Also, the network sites make them co-constructors of each other’s identities.” That gets a far deeper exploration in this ethnographical exploration of MySpace-like Danish social networking site Arto.

4) Stern: Producing Sites, Exploring Identities: Youth Online Authorship
Susannah Stern's article isn't about social network sites. It's about young people creating personal homepages and blogs – but it's exploration of how homepage creation facilitates identity formation and reflection upon identity formation is extremely interesting. It raises interesting questions about whether or not social network sites also provide young people with a canvas for self reflection or not.

5) Donnovan: Whose Safety? Whose Security?
(forthcoming)
Gregory Donnovan's work explores the problematic nature of box-filling social network site profiles and the way in which the reductive nature of profiles (for example, being asked to sum up religious belief, political affiliation or relationship status in a single line) can harm identity formation. Donnovan also raises important questions about how a growth in young people living out lives online potentially increases opportunities for state control of childhood, rather than increasing young people's freedom from control. Similar questions about the increasing power and control afforded to corporations through young people's engagement with online social networks may be asked.

6) Solove: The future of reputation: gossip, rumour, and privacy on the internet
Solve doesn't address social networking explicitly – and in fact the elements I found most interesting in his book are a little less developed than I'd like – but he does raise a number of crucial points about the way notions of privacy may be being redefined by the internet, and about the risks of publishing information online in preventing people from escaping past misdemeanour's that may be of particular interest to those working with young people. Will we see the availability of data about people's pasts becoming anchors that tie them down? Or will a norm that accepts everyone has a data-trail emerge?

7) Ellison, Steinfield, Lampe: Spacially Bounded Online Social Networks and Social Capital: The Role of Facebook
What is the role of online social networks in reflecting, and contributing to, young people's social capital resources? If local social networks have a significant impact on educational aspiration and attainment (as The JRF found they do) then exploring the role of online social networks seems to be a useful line of enquiry…

Responses to online social networking

8) Wolak, Finkelhor, Mitchell, Ybarra: Online “Predators” and Their Victims – Myths, Realities, and Implications for Prevention and Treatment and 9) Ybarra et. al: Internet Prevention Messages: Targetting the Right Online Behaviours
The Crimes Against Children Research Centre (CCRC) have produced some fantastic research which is extremely helpful in trying to find a balanced response to risk online. Their work drawing on the US based Second Youth Internet Safety Survey gets beyond the unhelpful blunt (and possibly counter-productive) safety guidelines commonly given to young people such as 'Don't share any personal details online' to look at the real markers of risk (for example, Talking with people known only online (“strangers”) under some conditions is related to online interpersonal victimization, but sharing personal information is not.) and to develop guidance and recommendations that make a lot of sense. In fact, two points from the bulleted summary on the CCRC Internet page are worth quoting in full:

  • Focus prevention efforts more on adolescents, less on parents, and frankly on concerns relevant to adolescents, including autonomy, romance and sex.
  • Focus prevention more on interactive aspects of Internet use and less on posting personal information.

I would strongly suggest that no-one should be proposing online safety messages without looking at these and other CCRC articles.

10) Merton: Good Youth Work: What youth workers do, why and how
When I first read Bryan Merton's 'Good Youth Work' I scribbled furiously in the margins about the lack of referencing and got frustrated about the complete reliance on anecdote and stories to explain what youth work does. However, having spent time over the Youth Work and Social Networking project talking with youth workers, and exploring possible youth work responses to online social networking – I've come to find it does provide a strong insight into how good youth work responses to online social networking could have an lot to offer (although it would still be good to see youth work adopting more explicit frameworks to be able to describe what it does).

Crucially, where a lot of focus gets put onto information campaigns and formal education to support young people in making safe and effective use of online social networking, informal education approaches are often not given enough consideration. Providing space for reflection, group work interventions, and individual interventions at the right time could potentially achieve a lot more than any amount of lesson plans, safety videos and even media literacy classes.


Well, that's 10 articles for now. But I'd be interested to hear from readers of this post – what article or resources are inspiring you to explore different lines of thought about youth and online social networking right now?

Photo credit: Piles of books by Ollily