The digital world increasingly forms young people’s natural habitat (cf. EU Kids Online, Net Children Go Mobile). Especially smart mobile devices (e.g. smartphones) are used for entertainment (music; games; TV; voice, mail, or messenger services communication; web surfing; social networking; photo; video). But the importance of mobile devices manifests itself also in the use of smartphones for identity formation, social interaction, and making meaning in and of the world. Especially young people use mobile devices as their main Internet access, and use social media (e.g. Facebook), which is most relevant in case of young people. There is a danger that the development in technology in everyday life can divide youth workers and their young clients depending on how familiar each group is with the use of mobile devices. This is often discussed in terms of “digital natives vs. digital immigrants”, “Generation X, Y & Z”, “digital divide“, “generation gap“, or using “Sinus-Milieus”. Youth workers are usually not tech-savvy (digital immigrants, Generation X or Y) whilst young people are often early adopters of new technologies (digital natives, Generation Y or Z). Hence there are different levels of expertise to be expected in the use of mobile devices and social media.
On a broader level users of mobile technologies communicate, structure, organize and order, plan, network, furnish information, assess, evaluate and produce. Even if young mobile users develop significant expertise in their everyday life -“worlds”, this expertise tends to be ‘naive’, i.e. non-reflected. Media is consumed for entertainment, created for self-expression and social networks are interacted on a daily, if not hourly, basis. All these activities can be drawn upon to support youth work, both through enabling a shared discourse with clients, and through providing additional means for engagement with them. The use of social media also raises issues of privacy, protection and digital identity, which are of key importance to the security and development of young people. The challenge is to enrich these activities by using the professional framework of youth work.
For youth workers there is no standardized training that addresses the competences needed to work within this scenario. There is a training that focuses on the use of social media in different topics related to youth work, i.e. privacy settings in social media, compulsive use of social media, policy for social media in organisations, or dealing with cyber-bullying. Most of the trainings focus on the negative aspects of the use of mobile
devices and social media. Youth workers therefore need to establish a reflective, critical attitude towards the risks of mobile devices and social media, but also to develop youth work practice, which develops positive regard to young people’s use of these technologies. This kind of work will build a positive relationship between youth workers and young people, which is crucial for effective youth work.
To achieve this, youth workers must be enabled to bridge the digital divide by working on:
- the risks of compulsive use or abuse of the communication possibilities (i.e. cyber-bullying, wrong privacy settings, identity theft),
- the most beneficial use of smartphones and social media,
- digital exclusion due to poverty or poor education,
- a mind-set to develop the “digital citizenship”,
- digital divide between the generations,
- different perception of the relevance of “virtual” incidents in contrast to “real” incidents,
- competences to use digital devices to relate to young people in order to enhance for example their skills needed (to enter) (in) the labour market,
- the (young people’s) attitude towards technology as both a topic and means of youth work in a digitized society.
This European partnership responds to the needs of the labour market, particularly of youth work services and training organisations. It anticipates skills needed in this labour market and it aims to improve the qualification of both educational staff (trainer, teacher, lecturer) and youth workers.