Social networking poses challenge for youth group

Barnabas Safe & Sound
Barnabas Safe & Sound

THE rise of Internet social networking is proving a challenge for a Morpeth youth group, but the hard work goes on.

Barnabas Safe and Sound works with young people in a number of ways, from centre and street based youth work to providing supported housing and teaching valuable life skills.

But the charity has warned it is facing an increasing challenge in engaging teenagers as more and more sit at home, interacting with friends via Facebook, Twitter and other such sites.

A survey of 100 young people at Morpeth’s King Edward VI School (KEVI) confirmed the changing relationship.

Barnabas Chief Executive Chris Menzies said: “The survey asked young people about issues that affect them, but also looked at things that young people do away from school. We compared the results with previous surveys we have done and the thing that really stood out for us was how much of an impact computers and technology is having on young people.

“There has been a vast increase in the numbers of young people surfing the Internet every day and there is a significant drop in the numbers of young people who are hanging out on the streets or even going to visit their friends compared to 2008 results. There are less young people socialising on a face to face basis.

“That presents a challenge to us for the youth work point of view in looking at how we support and engage young people. It also raises questions about how young people interact with each other. Their social interaction is a lot more likely to be online or through Facebook.”

The survey also showed that stress is the biggest concern among those questioned and Mr Menzies said it is important for the charity to find ways of helping young people with the problem.

“We wondered whether the issue was affected by the time of year that we did the survey, but most of the responses were from pupils in Years 9 and 10, rather than the older students who had exams,” he said.

“It shows that stress is a significant issue and there is a role for us in helping young people to cope with stressful situations, giving them the skills and the strategy to deal with stress in a positive way and recognise what triggers it.

“It is a serious issue because young people who are unable to deal with stress are more likely to end up in the situation of falling out with their parents, or might end up using drugs or alcohol as a way of managing stress, and that would be a big concern.”

Barnabas recently engaged teenagers by teaming up with KEVI to offer an employability project as an alternative to work experience.

Students completed teambuilding and enterprise challenges and took part in workshops with actor Ian Mercer to develop communication skills.

The initiative was supported by Northumberland County Council’s Employment and Skills Team.

Mr Menzies said: “It was all about building confidence and giving young people the skills they need for the world of work. The feedback from the young people was brilliant.

“We have made a conscious effort over the past year to work with the school and think about what we can be do that would be useful. That’s where the project came from.”

Members of the 6th Morpeth Scouts have also worked with the charity in a community challenge where they learnt about its work and planted flower displays at its Dark Lane premises.

“The Scouts were brilliant and we do get a lot of comments from people about how nice the planters look,” said Mr Menzies.