Expect The Unexpected – And The Embarrassing

I was sat in the bar at the hotel, watching myself on TV. And then it happened.

They left it in?! It wasn’t edited out????

A couple of months before, I’d been a contestant on The Weakest Link. They filmed two or three episodes a day, with them being broadcast a few months later.

I was away on business the day my episode was shown, so I was sat with a colleague in the hotel bar watching expectantly. In case you’re not familiar with the show, the presenter Anne Robinson gives every contestant a hard time, trying to push their buttons to either make them embarrassed or mad.

I went in prepared – or so I thought. Shae and I met on the P.O.D. message boards back in 2003, so I was expecting Anne to grill me about meeting my wife online, as it was before sites like Match.com had taken off. I was all prepared for questions like, “So, did she turn out to be a bow-legged, cross-eyed, sweaty 500 lb man instead of the 23 year old beauty in the photos?” I should be so lucky to get a question like that.

What did she ask me – and what actually got broadcast at 6pm on BBC2 to millions of people in the UK?

“How would you rate the first time with your wife out of 10?”

Yeah, I wasn’t expecting that either!

When working with youth, we have to expect the unexpected – and the embarrassing. Youth – like Anne Robinson – have an uncanny ability to ask questions that can leave you flustered if you’ve not given any thought on how to answer them.

OK, so if they ask you to rate your first time with your husband or wife, it’s obviously fine to explain that it’s not appropriate to discuss that kind of thing with them – it’s important for youth workers to have boundaries. Other questions aren’t so easy to deflect though:

  • Have you ever smoked?
  • Have you ever got drunk?
  • Have you ever done drugs?
  • Did you have sex before marriage?
  • Have you ever watched porn?
  • Have you ever stolen anything?
  • Have you ever been in a fight?

These are all questions that could easily crop up, so it’s important to consider now how you’d answer them. Young people aren’t dumb – if they ask you a question like these and you reply “Erm…..er…….did you see X Factor last night?”, they’ll know the answer is yes.

Be honest

Youth are more likely to respect what you have to say if you’re real and honest with them. If they ask whether you’ve done drugs and you have, tell them so. You don’t have to glamorize it – the fact that you’ve had this experience can help you guide them away from taking drugs. As you’ve had first-hand experience of taking drugs, you can explain the negative effects with far more authority than others would be able to.

Make it personal

It might feel uncomfortable, but make your experiences personal. Instead of just saying that you stole from your parents, explain the impact and what natural and logical consequences this had – how it took ages to gain back their trust, the punishment you received.

Young people – and adults – often do things without thinking through the consequences. Having these spelled out can help crystallize the reality of what their actions may lead to.

Don’t judge

If a young person asks you a tricky question like those listed above, I can almost guarantee they’ve either done it themselves or are seriously thinking about doing it – that’s why they’re asking. If your answers to the above questions are no, try not to appear judgmental when answering their question.

If they want to know if you had sex before marriage and you reply, “Of course not”, chances are the young person will clam up. You don’t necessarily know what they’ve been through – what happens if they’d been sexually abused and they’d been about to open up about it? Your answer would probably mean they wouldn’t feel safe disclosing the abuse to you, in case you judged them.

So make like a Scout and Be Prepared! Think back through your past to anything that would make you flustered if asked. Work out an honest answer to give if youth ever ask about the situation and how you can use your experience to guide them into making positive choices.

Question: Have you ever had an embarrassing situation like this? How did you deal with it? Let us know in the comments below.

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p.s. I’m sure you’re wondering what my reply was to Anne Robinson. I think it was something along the lines of “Um…..er……du……em…….I…..um……..y……..well…….erm…..th………”


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  • Joe Ragusa

    I didn’t even know you WERE on the weakest link! Scary question tho..and kind of moronically rude.

  • http://www.craigandange.com Craig

    look at you! This was very interesting Stephen!