# 1 Tip to Engage and Connect with Teens in 2015

Even before 2015 started, my inbox and Facebook newsfeed began to be inundated with articles and links to promises of a better year.

“30 days to a better you.”
“Get fit and feel great in 60 days.”
“10 Tips for being the best you in 2015.”
“How to Start Over in 2015.”
” 4.7 ways to have more pillow fights in 2015.”

Ok I exaggerated on that last one, but you get the point. These are not bad in and of themselves. In fact I signed up to receive emails or PDF’s on how to better myself in 2015 from three authors I enjoy.

Seeing all of these made me wondering, how many people actually finish or follow the 30 days, 60 days or 4.7 tips? I personally have not cracked open one of the three PDF’s I received promising to better my life in 2015 and it is already mid January.

When I think about building positive relationships with teens, or improving your teen program in 2015, I have just ONE tips. One idea. One thing you can do each day that will make a difference.

Be Intentional.

Thats It, it is that simple.

Let me give you a few examples of being Intentional:

If you volunteer with a youth program, do not show up thinking this is just another volunteer opportunity. Before you even arrive think about what you want to accomplish during your time, what you want to talk about, which teen you might want to follow up with. Be Intentional. Develop a plan for how you are going to serve and connect with teens during your time. “I am going to follow up with Johnny tonight because he was having a rough day last week.” “I am going to learn 5 teens names tonight and something they are interested in.” “I am going to help greet and sign in all of the teens tonight.”

If you run a teen program, do not let the days fly by and fall into the same old routine. Be Intentional each day. Plan a new fun activity each day or week to engage the teens. Think about the teens you have not seen in a while and give them a call/text/email to see how they are doing. If a teen tells you about a TV show, movie or song they like, intentionally take time to check it out. Next time you see them mention it and start a conversation about why they like it.

These are little things that show the teen that you were thinking about them. Not just in that moment but before you even saw them. Before you or they even arrived.

If you are a parent of a teen, don’t just react and hope your teen will attempt to connect with you. Be Intentional. When you first see them after school, Instead of getting on them right away to do their school work, take time to ask them how their day was and truly LISTEN. Surprise them with their favorite snack or trip to their favorite restaurant. Ask them their opinion on topics ranging from daily news to decisions you are making that effect the family. Instead of harping on them about the music they listen to, the show they are watching or game they are playing, take time to ask them why they enjoy it. Sit down and have them teach you the game or watch the show with them.

Just doing something together, something they enjoy, can be a great bonding experience. It is an opportunity to come down to their level for a change and intentionally engage with them.

It shows that you truly care about them and that you are listening and paying attention to them. This is HUGE with teens and they love it.

Over my years of working with teens and consulting on teen programs, I have been blown away by the positive changes that occur when staff and volunteers choose to Be Intentional each day. One of the coolest, sometimes unexpected benefits of this practice is the effect it has on the adult. When you have a specific intention in your mind and you accomplish that, it makes you feel more engaged. It turns your volunteer time from, “I am spending an hour a week serving,” to “I just made an impact.”

In our busy world with tips and tricks to do everything, just chose to do this one thing this year. Be intentional in building relationships with the teens in your life and see where it takes you.

How to Appreciate Volunteers: Cheap and Easy!

My whole adult life, I have worked for non-profit organizations, which meant two things: We had a very small budget (if any), and we relied on volunteer support.

While working for a ministry in the Pacific Northwest, we relied on “Resource Staff” to help us lead white water rafting or rock climbing trips for groups of at-risk youth. Although Resource Staff was a glorified title for volunteer, these men and women were the backbone of the organization. They took time off work, spent their own money, and went through days of training just to impact youth a few weekends a year.

During my years working at a local Boys & Girls Club, many volunteers helped make our program successful. Retired teachers would spend hours each week helping kids with their homework. College students would come in each week to connect with teens, play games and encourage them to set and achieve goals. We even had businessmen and women volunteer to facilitate job preparation classes for teens.

I volunteer regularly, and I know that volunteers are not doing it for the recognition. They are not going into a volunteer opportunity thinking, “I hope someone says thank you to me today.” No, they are thinking about the impact they could have and the difference they can make.

Often I found myself conflicted. I knew the volunteers did not expect anything in return for their time. But I wanted to say thank you, because without them, we would not have been able to offer our programs or provide needed support. I said thank you as often as I could but always wanted to do more to show my appreciation. Because of the very small budgets, I simply did not have the means to get elaborate thank you gifts for my volunteers. I am sure many of you have been in similar positions.

Good news! I recently learned about a service that will allow you to cheaply and easily logo_300show your appreciation to your volunteers. It is called txtmovies.com, and it allows you to email, text or tweet volunteers codes to be redeemed for a free Redbox movie. Who doesn’t like watching movies for free?

I volunteer at my church, and we sent free codes via text message to all of the volunteers who help out with our youth groups. This was a simple gesture to say, “Thanks for showing up for our youth each week! Enjoy a movie on us this Christmas.”

I even purchased codes myself to send out to friends that have been supportive to me and my family recently. It is a simple gesture to let them know that I appreciate them.

RBX_KIOSK_FRNT_LBThe Redbox codes are only $2.49 each and include delivery. If your organization has 25 volunteers, you could show them all a little appreciation for just around $60. Even for a non-profit, that’s not going to break the budget. They also offer an option to purchase Amazon Gift codes for $5.95.

If you want to appreciate your volunteers this Holiday season or throughout the year, click here to get started with txtmovies.

Here are other uses for txtmovies.com besides appreciating volunteers:

  • You can show appreciation for youth in your group who go above and beyond, help you out or maybe just need a pick-me-up.
  • Textmovies offers an option to link the free Redbox code to an online survey tool. You could create a survey for your youth members asking them for feedback on your program and let them know they will get a free Redbox movie for completing the survey.
  • TxtMovies has created a FREE Get to Know You Survey tool that can help you get to know new volunteers and thank them with a free movie.
  • If you have to cancel a meeting or appointment, you can send a free movie with a text apologizing for having to cancel.
  • And countless other great uses.

If you want to show appreciation to your volunteers by sending them a free Redbox Code click here and follow the three simple steps.

How do you show appreciation for volunteers who help out with your youth program?

12 Years: A Reflection on What Teens Have Taught Me

I have spent the past 12 years serving youth through various roles with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. And tomorrow, Friday December 12th, 2014 is my last day.

199231_1929851528981_4483310_nDuring the weeks leading up to this day I have caught myself reminiscing about my experiences over the past 12 years. I reflect on how I started at a local Club in Holland, hired as a part-time summer program assistant. I reflected on the over 500 hours of training I have facilitated for youth workers across the country. I think about all the amazing teens I have had the privilege to get to know and connect with. I look at my kids, and hope they grow up to resemble the many qualities, passions and talents that David, Miguel, Allie, Kiana, Yousif, Jessie and DeQuan embody.

Most of all, I think about the passion that has grown inside of me for teens today. I have come to be fascinated by teens, encouraged by teens and at times confused by teens. But most of all I have come to have a great respect for them today.

Here are just a few things I have learned about teens over the last 12 years.

Teens are at a point in their life where they are trying to find themselves. They are searching for identity and to be known. If you, as a caring adult in their life, offer praise and recognition towards the positive choices they are making, you can help them find a sense of self.

Teens most often go with the crowd, no matter how much they want to be their own person. I have seen this time and time again both for positive and negative. Help the teens in your life find a group of peers with common interests that are making good choices.

540060_10101917500530384_1451115576_nTeens will remember you. They will remember how you treated them, what you talked about, and most importantly how you made them feel. Treat teens with respect and like they are the greatest person in the world. I will never forget an experience I had in 2012 at our National teen leadership conference. There were over 1,500 teens in attendance, and I had only interacted with a few of them prior to that weekend. There was one group of teens from Oakland County Michigan, with whom I had the privilege to interact with a few times when I had visited their Club and met them at a previous conference. I will never forget the first time I saw them at this National event. I came around a corner and the whole group of teens ran to me and surrounded me with a huge group hug. I did not expect them to remember who I was, let alone embrace me in this fashion.

Teens can take a while to realize they are making the wrong choices. Over my 12 years as a youth worker I have heard it often said that we are like farmers planting the seed. We may not see the fruits of our labor at first. I can still remember teens I worked with at the Local Boys & Girls Clubs. I spent countless hours each week for years trying to guide them to make positive choices. Only to be left disappointed time and time again. But years later I have seen fruits of my labor. I have heard stories and seen glimpses of the seeds that we had planted years before through teens growing up and making positive choices for their lives.

Teens do not experience fear the same way adults do. I am not saying they are absent of fear, but often the lack of life experiences is a blessing that allows them to excel. I have met countless teens who have seen a justice issue and taken steps to stop it. I have met teens who have started their own non-profits, businesses, engaged with national leaders and raised thousands of dollars to help others when they themselves have had little. I think we as adults often second guess ourselves or have been told “no” too many times. It hinders us from even trying at times. I think we can learn a lot from teens.

There are a lot of GREAT adults who truly CARE about teens. In recent years I have 381353_327985800548032_1383409725_nfound my passion to be training and building up youth workers to help guide teens to realize the potential they have to make a difference in their own lives and in the lives of those around them. At every corner I turn I find adults who are committed, focused and having huge impact on the teens they serve. Staff like Hashira, Laurie, Ray, Liza, LaKetta, Mike, Lori, Gabe, Molly, Kristin and Johnny just to name a few.

These are just a few of the many things I have learned about teens over the last 12 years and I cannot wait to see where my journey takes me next and what I will learn about teens next.

What have you learned about teens as a youth worker, parent, teacher, coach or youth minister?

What Teens Want for Christmas: 2014 Edition

Christmas is a season filled with joy, laughter, and exchanging presents with relatives you might only see once a year. This can create more than a few awkward situations.

Purchasing a gift for a teenager can be one of those awkward situations where you take a wild guess and can end up as the best uncle ever or that weird guy who thinks teens still listen to music on CD’s. You want them to enjoy what you give them and find it useful, not end up on their bedroom floor or in the next garage sale.

To help you out, I surveyed teens to find out what they want or what they suggest getting the teen in your life for Christmas. Here is what they suggested:

  • Chromecast ($35) or Roku (Starting at $49.99): These are devices that you plug into Chromecasta TV that allows you to broadcast content and apps from your phone or tablet onto the TV screen. They can be used to stream content from apps such as Netflix and Hulu allowing teens to stop straining their eyes and neck trying to watch shows on their phones.
  • Bluetooth speakers that they can connect their phone or tablet to. Beats Pill and Mini Jambox are pretty popular options but also on the pricey side. There are a variety of cheaper options from $25-$100, just make sure the sound quality is goo and it produces a decent amount of bass when selecting a bluetooth speaker for a teen.
  • For the sports enthusiasts, Nike Elite socks are a good option and can be relatively cheap compared to the Air Jordan’s they also want. They make Elite socks for various sports as well as both genders. Here is an example of a Nike Elite basketball sock for guys.
  • Beats By Dre Headphones are still very popular with teens but are also among the most expensive headphones on the market starting around $170. The Urbeats are an alternative option but still run $99 a pair.
  • GoPro cameras are a very popular item and just right for the teen who likes to create content, take video or is into action sports.
  • Many of the girls mentioned clothing as an option if you knew their size and knew their sense of style. If not, gift cards to the following stores would do: Urban Outfitters, American Eagle, Target, Forever 21, H & M or Foot Locker for the guys. If you live in a colder climate a scarf is also a great option for teen girl. Seriously, they can have one for each day of the month and still want more.
  • Phone accessories such as alternate cases. Make sure you find out what type of phone they have first.
  • Personal care items such as lotions or body wash from Bath & Body for the girls. Axe spray for the guys. Tip: ask that they refrain putting the Axe Spray on in the crowded room full of adults. Trust me.
  • Mass amounts of Gum!
  • The most popular item teens suggested were gift cards. This allows them to purchase something they want or add their own money to it to get a more expensive item. Here are a few gift card ideas:giftcard
    • Barnes & Noble for the reader
    • Amazon, that covers almost everything.
    • Starbucks for the coffee drinker.
    • iTunes for the music lover.
    • Wal-Mart, Target or a Visa Gift card are pretty safe bets.
    • Best Buy for the techie.

Do you have any ideas of what to get teens for Christmas to add to the list? Leave a comment and let me know. Of if have a funny story of an awkward moment of giving a gift to a teen or as a teen getting a gift from an adult please share. I would love to hear it.

What Teens are Saying about the New Hunger Games Movie

If you work with teens, have a teen or have interacted with a teen at your local fast food restaurant in the last few years, you’ve probably heard about The Hunger Games.

For those of you who have been living without cable, internet or human interaction since 2012, here is a brief synopsis. The Hunger Games is a series of 3 novels and is the latest science fiction series that has captured the minds of teens and young adults. In 2012 the popular novels were turned into a series of movies starring Jennifer Lawrence as the main character.

The first film, The Hunger Games, was released in March of 2012 and brought in $152.5 million it’s opening weekend. The second film in the series, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was released in November of 2013 and set records for the biggest November opening weekend and biggest three and five-day Thanksgiving box-office totals.

mockingjayThe third installment in the series, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, debuted last weekend (November 21st, 2014) to the excitement of teens everywhere. I have to admit, I am a little excited to see it as well.

In an effort to gain a better understanding of why tweens and teens enjoy The Hunger Games series, I asked several tween/teens who saw the movie opening weekend to provide me with a brief review.

I asked each tween/teen to answer the following questions:

  • On a scale of 1 to 5 Mockinjay pins (A key symbol in the books and movies) how would she rate the movie overall?
  • General reaction to the movie: Did they enjoy it, how does it fit/flow with the other films?
  • Why did they like the movie specifically compared to other movies?
  • Why is the movie appealing to teens specifically and any other thoughts they might want to share.

Being tweens and teens, not all of them answered each of the questions. Go figure. I made basic changes to grammar but overall left the comments as said. Never-the-less, here is what they had to say about The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1.

Ava age 12: I would rate the movie a 5 out of 5 Mockingjay Pins. I really enjoyed it, although it was a little bit violent.  I thought that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was the best but Mockingjay part 1 was my 2nd favorite. The movie is appealing to teens because of all the romance and drama. Also the action. Other thoughts: the end with Peeta scared me ALOT I almost had a heart attack but afterwards I was okay.

Daniel age 16: I would give it a 4 out of 5 Mockingjay Pins. I enjoyed it and it flowed mockingjay pinrelatively well with the other movies in the series. It pretty well parallel with everything that happened in the book. Although it’s a stretch, I believe the reason why these movies are so popular is because in some instances, the events in the movie could really occur.

Lily age 12 : I would rate MockingJay a Five out of Five. I would rate it this because it was very intense and filled with action, drama, and romance. I really enjoyed seeing this movie, as it was a little different from the other movies since it was the first in the series that didn’t involve a hunger games competition. But still fit very well with the other movies in the series.

One thing that I liked about this movie was how different they made the characters. Everyone in the movie is a whole new person compared to the previous movies. This is because most of the characters are mad about all of the terrible things that the capital is doing, and those emotions are turning them into a whole new person. This movie is appealing to teens because of the cliff hangers and intensity levels that it beholds. Also because of the classic romance that every teen can’t get enough of.

Kaylee age 13: Based on the contextual features of the movie and book, on a scale 1 to 5 worth of Mockingjay Pins, I give the movie The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 a 4. I liked the fact that its different from the first two movies in the saga, where there are no games involved. I also liked how every event was spaced out nicely, and that the movie interacted with more than the main people involved in the story. The movie was sewn together well with the book, although you can’t tell what parts and pieces weren’t incorporated without Mockingjay part 2.

The one thing that riles me is the lack of action. There was quite a lot, but all the speeches and videos interfered with it, and hoaxed myself to think differently. This movie would suit teens because the books were written for YA readers, and the footage would grasp mostly teen girls, as the main character being a strong, daring girl. Overall, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay part 1 was a modest movie, and is a desirable movie to watch.

Morgan 12: I give The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 4.5 pins. It was fantastic and I think it flowed very well with the other books/movies. I liked it compared to the other movies in the series because it followed the plot of the book very well and it had a lot of action. I think it appeals to teens specifically because it’s like dystopian with romance and also it’s like rebellious and things like that, and I just thought overall it was very good.

jennifer lClosing Thoughts: Often teens gravitate to certain movies or music because it expresses feelings they are having but don’t know how to vocalize yet. If your teen is talking about The Hunger Games or another movie, watch it with them, take them to see it or rent it yourself and then engage in a conversation with them about why they liked the movie. What aspects of the plot they felt related to their life or what characters in the movie they saw themselves as. You could be offered a great glimpse into your teenagers life and how they see the world and how they feel the world views them.

If you have a teen who saw the movie or is seeing the movie and they would like to share their review based on the questions above, feel free to connect with me via email or twitter (@daverozman).

How to Build Positive Relationships with Teens Today: Tips from Teens

The goal of my blog is to help adults understand teens today in order to build positive relationships and assist them in navigating the crazy, unpredictable, emotional time we call adolescents.

I like to engage teens in the conversation for most topics and discussions rather than come at it from the point of view of a bunch of adults sitting in a room assuming we know everything there is to know about teens today.

With this in mind, I recently asked a group of teens the following question:

How can an adult (teachers, coach, parent, teacher, youth minister etc.) build a positive relationship with a teen today?

adult and teenTo avoid feeling like the picture above, follow the tips provided by teens below regarding how to build a positive relationship with teens today:

  • “Adults need to have empathy and try to understand what it is like to be a teen today. Don’t assume everything is the same as it was 10 or 20 years ago when they were teens.”
  • “I think in order to form relationships with teens, adults need to give up some of their power. Adults need to show that just because they are older doesn’t mean that the teen and the adult can’t be “equals,” they need to trust the teens, and trust them a lot. And if something does go wrong the adult needs to walk through the situation and talk about what the teen needs to improve on. Adults shouldn’t be using their age or job as a source of power, we’re all human, we all make mistakes and everyone comes from different backgrounds. Adults should show respect to teens and vice versa.”
  • “Simply be honest and put yourself out there. Don’t sugarcoat things to the teens and be honest. Honesty and being open has always been the most appealing traits that I see in counselors/mentors when consulting one.”
  • “I think the best way is to understand that neither the adult nor teen are better than each other. Also, they need to be accepting that both people make mistakes.”
  • “The adult must be willing to listen to what the teen has to say. Also, the adult must be able to create safe boundaries. Then, the teacher or advisor should spend time with the teen on a weekly basis, this will help the teen become more comfortable with the advisor making it easier for them to open up with the adult.”
  • “the easiest way to communicate with the teen. Teens want someone they can open up to. It is relaxing. They can proceed to talk with the teen without becoming to formal, as we still are younger. It helps the most when they can personally relate to something you are going through or need help with. It gives off a comfortable vibe and the teen is more likely to open up.”
  • “I believe the best way for a positive relationship between teens and adults would be for their to be trust and a lack of judgment coming from the adult. Teens need someone to trust with their problems and need to know there is no judgement afterward.”

I want to reiterate that the statements above are direct quotes from teens when asked the question, “how can an adult build a positive relationship with a teen today?”

One point I would make after reviewing this list, is to take a moment and think about the questions from the teens perspective. For example, we read the statement “adults need to give up some of their power” from one of the teens. That statement causes the hairs on the back of our necks begin to stand as we say, “but I am the parent, the teacher the coach and you are the child.”

When I speak with teens I do not get the sense that they want us to abandon our authority and just be their friend. What I hear them saying is include me and ask me my opinion. Let me teach you something that I enjoy or let me help solve a problem. Often I see adults who only lecture and never listen or only tell and never ask. I am not saying you need to give all decision-making power to the teen, but including them in the process can go a long way in building a relationship with them.

What tips do you have for building positive relationships with a teen today?

YouTube’s Growing Influence on Teens

I want you to think back to when you were a teen. What celebrities were most influential on your life?

My guess is that it would be an actor/actress from your favorite TV show or movie, a player on your favorite sports team or a musician in a band. Personally I was a huge fan of Sylvester Stallone and Dennis Rodman. Let me clarify that I was a fan of pre-freak-show Rodman when he was with the Detroit Pistons and they won back-to-back championships.

Looking back, my infatuation with these celebrities was wrapped up in the character they rockyplayed or the effort they displayed and less about who they were. I idolized Sylvester Stallone’s character Rocky. I was drawn in by the dedication, determination and will he displayed. I mirrored my style of play on the basketball court after Rodman’s. Diving for loose balls and recklessly going up for rebounds against bigger guys. That was the sum of what I knew of them, yet they were powerfully influential on my life.

Teens today want more. For someone to have influence on them they want to know their story, know they have things in common and feel that that person, in-part, represents their own aspirations in life. I believe this is true for two reasons.

One, teens have greater access to information than I did when I was a teen. They have the ability like never before to find out more about a celebrity beyond what they see on stage or the big screen. Finding out more can make the teen more or less interested in that person. If I would have known some things about Rodman back when I was a teen I may not have held him in such high regard.

Two, teens today have a strong desire for authenticity and affinity. To truly know someone else and feel connected to others. If they learn that they have similar interests and passions of a celebrity they like, the more they will feel connected to that  person. And ultimately that celebrity will begin to be influential on them.

With today’s teens desires to connect with others and the rise of the internet, it comes as no surprise then that YouTube personalities (A person or group that gains widespread recognition on the internet and beyond for videos they post on YouTube) are rising in the ranks of celebrities who are influential to teens today.

youtube-stars-shine-brightestIf you are not familiar with YouTube channels, here is a quick snapshot. Individuals and or groups create videos of varying lengths (sometimes multiple videos each day) on all sorts of topics from their daily life, dance, music, beauty/fashion tips, complete randomness,  or their own mini-shows. My kids personally love Kid Snippets videos where kids do the voice-overs for adults acting out situations. They are pretty funny. Some channels build a solid following with millions of subscribers and views on their videos.

Personally I have stumbled upon entertaining channels myself and before I knew it I had viewed a dozen videos by the same creator. I even found myself checking back for new content days later. Teens are digital natives and big users of YouTube and they are doing the same thing. For instance, a recent survey by Variety magazine “found the five most influential figures among Americans ages 13-18 are all YouTube celebrities,” not your traditional movie actors or actresses.

I asked Leo, a teen from southern California, to give me his thoughts on YouTube Celebrities being influential on teens today. Here are his thoughts:

In my opinion, I believe that they are influential and popular because they are associated with comedy, youth and consistency. YouTube stars tend to post content frequently, therefore gaining a much greater audience than say a mainstream actor who only comes out in a movie once or twice a year.

Most of the mainstream media actors do not have the interaction that the YouTube stars have due to the fact that they have no form of communication with their fans other than their social media. Even then they’re very limited towards what they can say. On the other hand, YouTube stars have the option of interacting with their audience through the form of a video which they can post at any time they wish. They have the liberty of voicing their opinion on their channel.

If you compare Felix Kjellberg (a Swedish video game commentator on YouTube known as PewDiePie) to Jennifer Lawrence, Felix posts content every single day. About two videos and each ranging about 7-10 minutes long. That has led to his HUGE success now with over 31 Million subscribers. Therefore he has a better interaction with his fan base community. Jennifer Lawrence on the other hand comes out in a hit movie every couple of months for about 2 hours. This amount of content and interaction plays big role because unlike Jennifer, Felix has public exposure everyday which keeps him very relevant in the media. What big celebrities struggle with is the fact that they cannot stay very relevant in the media. Right after a big movie or TV show is released, they just gradually lose the interests of the public.

If you still do not think teens are being influenced by YouTube stars, look at the fact the bethany-mota-at-teen-choice-awards-2014-in-los-angeles_21Teen Choice awards now have a category to recognize Web Stars. Bethany Mota and Tyler Oakley took home the 2014 honors for Web Star Female and Male by the way. Side Note: Bethany is also on the current season of Dancing with the Stars. Which leads to a whole other conversation around brands using YouTube Celebrities to influence teens for their brand. We will save that for another time.

Youth Worker and Parent Tips:

  • Learn who some of the popular YouTube celebrities are. Common Sense Media has an article titled 10 YouTube Stars Your Kids Love that i recommend you start with.
  • Use YouTube to create a common connection with your teen(s). Find a YouTube channel that you and your teen(s) both enjoy and is appropriate for their age and watch the videos together. Like I mentioned earlier my kids, who are not teens yet, enjoy Kid Snippets and we occasionally watch them together.
  • Have a discussion with your teen(s) about their favorite YouTube channels, why they like those channels and what is it about the videos that connects with them. You might learn something about your teen that you did not know or identify opportunities for you to connect better with them.

Teens Actually Look Forward to School

At the beginning of 2014 I promised to write more posts focusing on the positive aspects of teens. I think teens are great but often the media portrays them as running wild, trying the latest dangerous fads all while being ungrateful towards the adults in their lives.

I recently asked teens a simple questions, what are they looking forward to most about this school year? Indeed I did get a couple of responses about it being their senior year and they can’t wait until it is over, but those were clearly in the minority. Overall I received very positive responses and I wanted to share them with you:

  • “As a senior I get to intern for three hours two days a week in a second grade classroom. Since I want to teach those are the best days of my week!”
  • “I am looking forward to working with my classmates and to prepare for our different post high school opportunities. I want to work hard but also make the most of my senior year.”
  • “This year I am a part of senior walk, which is a fun experience at my school highschoolwere seniors perform different community service projects throughout their year. So I’m very excited about that! Other than that I’m looking forward to making the best of my last year as a high school student. I am going to get involved in my schools events as well as at the boys and girls club events as much as possible.”
  • This year I am mostly excited about the classes I am taking and starting my search for colleges. Since I am a junior at my high school, I have some time, but it’s never too early to start looking at colleges!
  • A closer relationship with God! Also to inspire more people to become more! Finally getting involved more!
  • This year I’m a senior!! I am most exited and looking forward to sports (fall cross-country and spring baseball) and applying to colleges. I am also really excited for my capstone project because I have been working on it for over a year now.”
  • I am looking forward to re-prioritizing my life and maximizing my potential! I have the power to put recognition to my name and I will seek to do it!
  • Hanging out with friends, planning my future, and become more mature is what I’m looking forward to.

Not all teens hate school. Take time to build relationships with the teens you work with and understand their aspirations for this school year. Doing so will allow you to speak into their life, encourage them and provide the guidance and assistance they need.

Meet the Incoming High School Freshman Class

I desire for parents and youth workers to connect with and engage teens in order to help them navigate life and make positive choices. From personal experience, I have found that being able to understand teens – where they are coming from and what they are dealing with – greatly helps. When I speak and write about teen culture, I do so with the purpose of helping parents and youth workers gain insight into the world of teens today.

I love it when I find resources that align with these goals. One of my favorite resources is the annual Beloit Mindset List. “Each August since 1998, Beloit College in Beloit, Wis., has released the Beloit College Mindset List, providing a look at the cultural touchstones and experiences that have shaped the worldview of students entering colleges and universities in the fall.” It’s initial purpose was to provide insight to professors regarding incoming students to help them better relate and connect. Love it.

Here are some highlights from Beloit Mindset List for the Class of 2018:

  • Students heading into their first year of college this year were generally born in 1996.
  • Among those who have never been alive in their lifetime are Tupac Shakur, JonBenet Ramsey, Carl Sagan, and Tiny Tim.
  • leslie_ackerman96During their initial weeks of kindergarten, they were upset by endlessly repeated images of planes blasting into the World Trade Center.
  • Women have always been dribbling, and occasionally dunking, in the WNBA.
  • Parents have always been able to rely on a ratings system to judge violence on TV.
  • Everybody has always Loved Raymond.

I thought it would be fun to think of a few cultural touchstones related to the incoming high school freshman:

  • Students heading into their first year of high school this year were generally born in 2000.
  • They never had to worry about Y2K.
  • Microsoft has always produced gaming systems. The 1st Xbox was released in 2001.
  • They have only seen Boy Meets World in reruns. The final episode aired in May of 2000.
  • Robert Downey Jr. has always been Ironman. Not Charlie Chaplin, a role that earned him an Academy Award nomination in 1992, or Wayne Gale from Natural Born Killers.senior_class_of_2018_blue_round_stickers-r6935b37067374bbeb57bccd1cbcfe8fa_v9waf_8byvr_324
  • They have always purchased music from iTunes (debuted in 2003) to listen to on their iPod (introduced in 2001).
  • For the majority of their lives, the US has had troops engaged in combat in both Afghanistan and Iraq, making roadside bombs and RPGs common terminology for this generation.
  • “Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child, “The Thong Song” by Sisco and “Bye Bye Bye” by N’Sync were in the top songs on the Billboard charts in 2000. Sorry if you now have one of those songs stuck in your head.
  • The Oxford English Dictionary has always been available online (Launched on March 14, 2000).

What experiences or cultural moments would you add to the list?

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Tips for Engaging Volunteers in your Youth Program

Youth programs have a limited number of staff members to serve the many youth they serve. For example, a youth ministry program at a church may have one youth pastor to serve the 30 to 60 to 100 youth they serve each week.

We know that positive change in a persons (youths) life frequently occurs in and through relationships. Being greatly outnumbered as a youth worker can hinder the success of your program.

That is where volunteers play a significant role in any successful youth program. Having caring adults who can assist the staff in executing the program, building relationships with the youth and facilitating activities allows the staff to maintain some sanity and have a positive impact more youth.

I have been the youth worker who recruited and coordinated volunteers and I have been the volunteer engaging in a youth program in my free time. Because I have experience on both sides, I want to share a few tips to help you engage and utilize your volunteers to the fullest potential for the success of your program.

Note: I am not going to cover background checks and specific safety training but remember, the safety of your youth is your first priority.

  • Provide a clear overview of the program, your mission and what a typical day  or volunteer experience will look like. I have had volunteers who showed up with certain expectations. They thought kids would run up and hug them, want to play games with them and they would leave with the kids saying what a difference they made in their lives. Then they arrived and that was not the case, it was harder than they anticipated. The clearer we can be in regards to expectations, the more we set our volunteers up for success.
  • Get to know your volunteers. The experiences I have had where the coordinator has taken time to get to know me have been the most rewarding. I am not saying become best friends with every volunteer, but learn their names, why they are interested in volunteering with youth, what they are passionate about. You may even identify additional opportunities for them to connect with the program based off of skills and interest they have. I volunteered as a mentor for the juvenile courts a few years ago and the coordinator took time to meet me for lunch to discuss the program and get to know me. She then learned of my background with youth and I was able to provide additional training for her and her staff.
  • Connect volunteer to specific tasks or roles. I have been apart of too many volunteerexperiences where volunteers show up to an event and are told, “have fun.” Some volunteers will jump right in, others will turn into deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. Providing specific tasks helps them connect, feel useful and accomplish tasks you need completed. There is nothing worse as a program coordinator to have enough volunteers but still feel like you are doing everything yourself. Have volunteers sign youth into the event, help with sound or lighting, facilitate ice breakers or lead small group discussions.
  • Communicate frequently with your volunteers. Volunteers are busy with full-time jobs, families, school etc. Frequently communicating with them through short emails or text messages reminding them of upcoming events, program updates and appreciation allows them to stay connected and see the bigger picture of the program. I volunteer with the youth group at my church and every week I receive an email talking about the upcoming gathering and even includes a basic outline of the night and our roles as volunteers. I love it! This allows me to have an understanding of the objective of the night and my role. I arrive and can plug right in and support the staff in achieving a successful gathering.
  • Ask them for feedback. Volunteers bring various perspectives to the table based on their background and experiences. Ask them for feedback, they may help you see ways to improve your program or connections you can make in the community that you did not see.
  • Provide training and resources. Do not assume everyone is gifted with engaging youth or know the basics of adolescent development. Take time to provide basic training throughout the year to help them understand youth and how they can have a positive impact on their lives.
  • Appreciate them. I am not talking about once a year giving them a thank you note. Each time they volunteer say thanks. Have some of the youth help you make thank you cards to send to volunteers to show their appreciation. Let them know the impact they are having on the program and the youth.

I could add more to this list but I want to know what tips do you have for working with and engaging volunteers in a youth program or event?