Digital youth work Using or addressing digital media and technology in youth work

supplies for digital maker activities at a maker faire in Luxembourg

Technological development and digitalisation impact society and the lives of young people in many ways. Indeed, one of the focus areas of youth work is to support the growth and development of young people in an increasingly digital world. Youth work also plays an important role in closing the digital divide and promoting digital agency. 

Digital youth work is based on the idea that new technology must be utilised in youth work to make services and activities intended for young people better, more accessible and more meaningful. Digital youth work can be used to create opportunities and spaces for young people to develop their critical, ethical and creative thinking related to technological development and the digital future.

Digital youth work is focused on digitalising the youth work sector and the practices within. Digital youth work is not a separate discipline or method within youth work, but rather something intertwined with all areas of youth work. Digital youth work can, for example, be implemented in the context of cultural youth work, youth participation, youth information and counselling, open youth work or outreach work – in other words, any and all forms of youth work. 

At its best, digital youth work links seamlessly with other youth work performed by the organisation and the related goals. 

According to the EU expert group on ‘Risks, opportunities and implications of digitalisation for youth, youth work and youth policy’ (2018) digital youth work:

  • means proactively using or addressing digital media and technology in youth work
  • is not a youth work method – digital youth work can be included in any youth work setting (open youth work, youth information and counselling, youth clubs, outreach youth work, etc.)
  • has the same goals as youth work in general, and using digital media and technology in youth work should always support these goals
  • can happen in face-to-face situations as well as in online environments – or in a mixture of these two. Digital media and technology can be either a tool, an activity or content in youth work
  • is underpinned by the same ethics, values and principles as youth work.

Digital youth work in practice

Because digital youth work is not a separate discipline but can be connected to all youth work, the implementation methods and forms of digital youth work are diverse. Digital youth work can even be conducted without digital devices. Digital youth work can, for example, be discussing the phenomena related to gaming culture with a young person or guiding young people to be respectful to others on social media. 

Some examples of digital youth work practice:

  • The focus is on digitalising youth work operations to make them more accessible and meaningful.

    • utilising digital tools in participatory activities
    • reaching young people through social media
    • online guidance for vulnerable youth
  • The focus is on learning by doing and practical applications:

    • game education-based activities, such as a game development club
    • digital crafts and maker activities
    • utilising location-based mobile apps in adventure education.
  • The focus is on questions related to digitalisation:

    • discussions on phenomena encountered online
    • organising events related to digital youth cultures, such as YouTuber meet and greets
    • utilising digital media, such as blogs, in self-expression.

The history of digital youth work in a nutshell

Conventionally, Finnish youth work has often been quite quick to utilise new media and technological features and phenomena. Digital gaming equipment, for example, has been more or less standard in youth centres since the 1980s alongside pool tables.

As communications networks (videotex, internet) took over Finland, youth work started building its first websites for communication purposes in the late 1980s and 1990s. In the early 2000s, youth workers would engage young people in the online communities and social media channels that they would naturally frequent. The term online youth work was adopted at this time. It refers to online discussions between young people and youth workers on social media, for example.

In order to gain a better understanding of the overall picture of digital media and technology as part of youth work, the concept of digital youth work needs to be solidified alongside online youth work.

The constantly accelerating development of technology is also reflected in youth work, as new types of online tools, AI, wearable technology and social media services become more commonplace. The seamless merging of digital technology with other activities in the 2010s finally put an end to trying to separate digital youth work from face-to-face work or examining it as a separate form of work. This means that you should not limit digital youth work to only mean youth work conducted online, but to have it encompass all of youth work.



European guidelines for digital youth work:

Lauha, Tuominen, Merikivi & Timonen 2016: Minne menet, digitaalinen nuorisotyö?

EU expert group on ‘Risks, opportunities and implications of digitalisation for youth, youth work and youth policy’: Developing Digital Youth Work: