So Madge asked me to write a blog about walking and talking with young people.
Walking and talking isn’t new but it’s new to us, it’s been around for many many, years and dates back to Ancient Greece, who coined the term pedagogy – when servants were paid to walk with children and to review their day and help cement their learning. We have kind of been forced into walking and talking as an organisation due to Covid, we haven’t got many other options. We can’t meet young people in their space, in their schools, in youth clubs, or in their homes so we have taken to walking in their environment near their homes and in their towns.
So when you’re out walking and talking with young people it’s very different to centre based work, there is no eye contact, there is no physical closeness, however there is a level of intimacy that is difficult to describe because it’s just you two (maybe sometimes three) and nature. When you’re walking, the monotonous pace and the rhythm of your walk can create quite a meditative state your heartbeat increases slightly because of the physical activity and your breath can shorten. This means words and conversation are chosen carefully and often thought about.
I believe being in nature, having a rhythmic meditative walking state and that slightly out of breath feeling has encouraged lots of young people that we have worked with, to really open up about how they’re feeling; young people that have been quite stressed before meeting with us have left appearing lighter, like they’ve just left something horrible behind.
The topics that you cover whilst walking and talking can be anything and everything because there are lots of distractions. If nature wanders into your path when you’re out walking that is almost definitely going to come up in a conversation if a giant lorry travels alongside of a motor enthusiastic young person the conversation will probably be steered in the direction of careers and hobbies and ‘I’d love to drive one of those trucks one day, they’re great!’ Also, when you find yourself in a quiet area where you are not being disturbed by cars and lorries or nature, the quiet time in this secluded space opens up an environment that feels safe and intimate, and this often helps young people talk about some of the difficulties they are experiencing, The lack of eye contact, the closeness but separation, helps young people feel connected to their youth worker. We’ve had conversations about what is anxiety? Parental health, mental health, what am I going to do with my life? I actually think I wanna stop smoking? How do I cut back on smoking this drug? Do you think that if I engage more in school and I try little bit harder I might just get the grades I need to get into college? Is there any way you might be able to help me find someone who I can talk to about my self-harm? Sometimes I look at my body and I hate it. I hate feeling like that because I never used to feel like that! I’m really scared about my family and the coronavirus.
When you’re walking and talking it can feel like, as a youth worker, that the boundaries are lifted; the restrictions of communication are gone and you are just a tool there to help young people explore and question their own capabilities and abilities. Obviously, we use traditional methods like asking the right questions, we might steer some conversations into talking about things that we know that young person is struggling with, but actually when you’re out walking that’s not necessary. It feels like you become a channel you become an ear, a friendly listener to the untamed internal dialogue from the young person, to hear their musings, worries, anxiety, the “what if’s, should I?, Could !?” The “What would happen if I dids?” The thoughts that wizz about in the young person’s mind.
This is a very special sacred place to be, a very trusted and privileged place, that you don’t often experience in the confines of a building.