Tag: connecting with youth

Hip Versus Heroic

February 9th, 2010

In what sense should we be like the youth we care about? We wrongly assume that to be relevant to teens we need to be like them. Such an inclination to mimic youth is born of fear. If we’re like them, so we believe, they will like us. Unchecked, our insecurities lead us to talk, dress, and act like adolescents. I’ve been to youth camps and events where I had to strain to distinguish between the teens and the adults.

Being like the youth we serve cannot be our priority, not if we want to make a significant impact. Teens need and want us to be adults. They have lots of buddies. They want us to relate with them in a way that’s in keeping with our authentic humanhood. When we seek to be buddies with teens, they lose the best thing we have to offer: our selves.

We are a medium for youth, a living message. This message will translate to teens when we model for them what it looks like to be a responsible, compassionate, kind adult. If we fall victim to our insecurities and seek to prioritize being hip over being heroic, teens lose.

I knew a family that spoke to their children in “baby talk” to the exclusion of normal diction. Not surprising, each of their children had difficulty speaking in their early years. One could hardly understand them. They had only known baby talk and hadn’t learned to speak with clarity. Teens gain clarity about life best by being around caring adults who behave as adults.

To connect with youth in a meaningful way be yourself. Dress, talk, and act the way you normally do. This is an attractive quality to teens. Come to think of it, this kind of authenticity is attractive to everyone.

    Newsletter for September 2009: The First Element of Effective Structure

    September 8th, 2009

    This newsletter launches a new series that will walk you through a five-step progression that can enhance your work with youth. The first phase is Introduction.

    Take care not to overlook the importance of a good introduction. A great piece of literature depends on a well-crafted introduction. I remember reading the highly descriptive opening of Steinbeck’s “East of Eden.” I couldn’t put it down. It had all the qualities of a great presentation.

    Your introduction is like a boat dock. By the end of the introduction you want to have everyone in the boat. Before shoving off you want to build a sense of expectation. This allows you to enter the process phase with full engagement.

    Coherence is one of the chief goals of the introduction. Our brains crave coherence. Studies on the brain and learning demonstrate that when we detect dissonance our brains flush much of what we’ve learned. Eliminate dissonance and you encourage youth to retain and build upon what they’ve learned.

    Build a solid introduction by answering the following four questions. If possible, ask students to help answer the second two:

    1. What are we talking about?

    [Insert topic here.] This is your theme. State in the simplest terms the topic you’d like to discuss. It may be teen alcohol use, suicide, the media, or relationships. Make sure everyone knows with absolute clarity what you plan to discuss. If you use demonstrations, insert them here.

    Note: Your demonstrations work best during the introduction. But beware. If you use demonstrations, don’t confuse them with process (the topic of our next newsletter). A demonstration is merely a mode of communication. State the theme verbally. If you wish, restate the theme through a demonstration.

    2. What do you expect from youth during your time together?

    Let youth know how you hope they’ll collaborate with you and with each other to gain a deeper understanding of the topic. Will you be doing an activity? Will they be in small groups? Will they be sharing ideas? Let them know so they can prepare and know what to expect.

    3. How does this topic relate to the topic you just discussed?

    For the sake of coherence and continuity connect the present topic to past topics. We separate topics in order to examine them. But we understand topics best in their broader context. So, for example, explore how the media is related to refusal skills, how alcohol use might relate to relationships, and how life goals might connect to character goals.

    4. Why is it important to discuss this topic?

    Youth will engage in the process phase only if they see the topic as relevant to them. Before you transition to the next step, give them the opportunity to orient themselves to the topic and its import to their lives.

    So now you’ve set the stage. You’ve piqued the curiosity of those with whom you’re speaking. You and your compadres are ready to move into the most important phase: process. We’ll look at this more closely in October’s newsletter.

    It’s great to be working with you to promote positive change in the lives of young people.



      Newsletter for August 2009: Five Elements of Effective Structure

      September 8th, 2009

      In the last few newsletters I’ve addressed how to slim down and optimize your content to maximize process and meaningful connection with adolescents. Now I’d like to put these key elements into a workable structure for you. In the next five newsletters I’ll explore in more depth the five phases I believe are crucial to the effectiveness and efficiency of your presentations: Introduction, Process, Synthesis, Motor, and Transition.

      1. Introduction

      The first phase is introduction. Your goal here is to have each teen “in the boat.” Simply put, you want to enter the next phase–process–with every teen operating at maximum engagement. We must answer the following key questions during this phase:

      > What are we talking about?

      > What’s expected of the teens?

      > What are the ground rules?

      > Why are we talking about this?

      > How does this topic relate to the previous topics?

      A good introduction will channel adolescents into the second and most important step–process.

      2. Process

      Process is to learning what digestion is to eating. It’s healthier to present adolescents with a light healthy snack of content–then allow time and freedom to interact with and take ownership of it. Only then will the content be relevant and actionable.

      3. Synthesis

      The third phase, synthesis, offers adolescents opportunity to make meaning of the process. The presenter or educator can facilitate synthesis by bundling together comments into likenesses, then reframing the main message after integrating the input from participants. This is a far cry from traditional approaches wherein we state our message in our terms, irrespective of the input adolescents give.

      4. Motor

      In the motor phase we address the all-important, oft-overlooked question: So what? How are the conclusions reached during synthesis supposed to influence teens’ decisions in the next twenty-four hours, seven days, six months? Help adolescents identify specific actions they will take based on their conclusions.

      5. Transition

      The fifth and final stage is the transition. Think of this as the pre-introduction to your next topic. Provide a sweeping summary of the conversation, highlighting the main points you and the teens identified. With this summary in place, you are ready to introduce the next topic.

      I’m looking forward to discussing how to apply these five steps to boost the engagement and process in your work.

      It’s great to be working with you to promote positive change in the lives of young people.