So this is my first personal blog post – ever, and I’ve called it ‘F***ing Youth Work!’ Don’t get me wrong, I love youth work, I’ve been playing this game for a decade and still finding new reasons for why I love it – No, this post is about swearing.
Working with young people and hearing all sorts of swearing kinda goes hand in hand – a generalisation I know. Not all young people but not just ‘naughty’ youth either – cursing, cussing, effing and blinding are often prominent parts of a young vocabulary. My point is that maybe youth workers need to swear a bit more themselves…
So there’s a few different points here;
1) I’m not talking about discriminatory swearing or swearing at people with harmful intent. I’m not saying this is what youth workers should do more of, let’s be clear.
2) “But ALL swearing could be offensive” – Sure. I’m not saying that you should bust out your arsenal of favoured profanity in front of 5 year olds stood next to their mums. Please don’t turn the air blue around teens you know would be upset – an ability to judge these situations is assumed.
3) “Shit – Balls – Crap – Coooooock!” – I’m not even saying that you should be busting it out for the sake of it – liberal cursing wont help you – and what purpose would it serve?
What I am saying is that I firmly believe that swear words are like colours on the paint palette of vocab. They may not be used by all painters in many of the best paintings but they do have their place. Sometimes there are just no better words to sum something up – at least not without using circumlocutory or tautological verbosity – like that. Now who wouldn’t sum up any of those three words when talking to a young person with the perfectly simple one;
Just when you thought I was all about the shock value, I do have some theory…
Carl Rogers gave to the world his three ‘core conditions’ for counselling and education – ’empathy’, ‘unconditional positive regard’ and the one I’m interested in tonight – ‘congruence’. Congruence is all about the realness of the practitioner and whether the character you present in your work is the genuine you. If not you may be jeapardising the impact of your work.
In practice – I swear. I swear if I would normally swear in conversation. I tend to tone it down, but then I don’t swear a huge amount in my personal life anyway. And in my experience not only does it better represent a congruent you but on some level it shows trust. The trust in the young people you work with to use swearing with you, but use it ‘properly’. Groups I work with don’t have a blanket ban on swearing – whenever they do ground rules they always say “No Swearing” as if it’s expected. I challenge that, “Is that realistic” – reflection – “No, I guess not” – “Ok, so what is realistic?” – discussion around what’s appropriate and not… This way groups know the difference between using swear words and being nasty/bullying/discriminatory/offensive – a lesson they’re free to take to other areas of their lives.
I also find that casual (and proper!) swearing can lead to a mutual respect between youth worker and young person. Not the kind of respec’! you get preceded by the word ’nuff’ that it’s embarrassing to try to cultivate as a youth worker. Not even the ‘Respect‘ the Labour party tried to force down people’s throats in 2005 but the kind of respect you give and get when you treat teenagers as they want to be treated – as young adults.
So, swearing, why not give it a fucking go?