How to work effectively with teens in organizational settings

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Who are Teens?

The nature of teenagers: the perceptive sources of authenticity in human form, aside from butterflies of course. Like caterpillars transforming slowly out of their cocoons, their brains like mini feelers are always ready for action and a reaction. 

 To be this agile and flexible with our feelings, beliefs, and attitudes as an adult can almost seem more difficult or draining to control or mould at times in our own complex lives, both personally and professionally, compared to those of the young people we work with. However, I believe we can easily manage difficult emotions if we begin to wrap our minds around the idea of transforming our own minds into the conscious attitude of mind.

And we can begin by developing a framework for transitioning our thinking; going from concerning ourselves with how we can solve a young person’s varying complex situations and moving towards putting that focus into the investment of who we are for ourselves.

The majority is certainly quite caught up in how they are being served by others and the “what’s in it for me” mindset, that they lose the essence of why they are supporting others, specifically youth at risk and in need of additional supports. 

Further to this concept, following our intuition in coexistence with a youth development approach that is “who am I” sensitive, I believe it actually centres ourselves and realigns our power as youth investors to bring out the power and confidence that young people already have stored inside them. 

We must take the path of mind where we already know that young people are capable of creating new options and situations out of the sticky ones that they may have fallen into whether deliberately or not. Every step is new, every experience experiential to their learning. 


At times, we may think to ourselves, “I can’t take that chance with them. The stakes are too high,” or “I can’t afford to try this out and see what happens. I must apply my common sense here and resolve the situation like any responsible adult would do in my position.” Regardless, of this approach to life and the seemingly strong accountability it implies towards the kind of actions we take and the choices we make in our own personal lives, I am suggesting that youth workers soak it in within a youth development context. As, the youth development frame is both practically and socially adaptable to that of life itself. Treating youth and the multiple challenges they face, especially throughout the period of adolescence, as we would the situations we encounter on the daily allows for a kind of profound self-reflection to deliver our work moredeliberately and passionately. Unfortunately, this way of “being” more often than not goes unnoticed for many in the field. It is naturally obvious that not every youth worker has the same life experiences or shares the same strategies to create the positive outcomes they see fit when serving different youth populations. 

Whilst keeping this in mind, that everyone goes through their own internal struggles, by thinking about how we might handle the personal difficulties we face in accordance with how we are speaking or engaging them in the moment is critical to our impact on them. 

External supports and developing Internal Strengths:that combination of practical action oriented and empathy-based style is imperative to create better results for youth. It is about instilling within them the positive power of assets that allow them to grow and move away from high-risk behaviours that steer them on a dangerous route to adulthood and at the same time succeed. 

In respect to organizational culture, if organizations and the individuals who work both directly and indirectly with youth were to adapt the same skills that youth workers are attempting to instil in the young peoplethose skills would translate onto them more smoothly. 

What I am suggesting here is that mirroring or internalising the asset or quality we are looking to enhance in the young person throughout our workspace must come from us first and foremost before we can begin to see clear concrete results in behaviour change.  

Youth, especially disadvantaged youth, are more likely to be involved in multiple disadvantages at the same time. One of the most effective ways aside from service provision that we as youth service professionals can pay tribute to the resolution of their struggles or issues is not merely to focus on addressing how to fix them, as these are both structural and emotional, having already taken place historically and socio-emotionally. However, what we can do is learn to become more present in the process of building young people up through the application of assets (specifically certain skills, knowledge, and attitudes), so that they can move through these challenges and use them to their advantage as they grow into contributing members of society. 


Our role as youth workers in addition to members of society is to be their most valuable critics not to discredit their resilience to overcome what is not their fault and yet what should not be regarded, governed, or predicted as their fate either. Destiny is not an option nor is it another’s opinion to be predetermined, but a promise to be left unfolded through one’s own personal determinations, self-awareness/enlightenment and truths. We must remind ourselves to keep this mindset in the forefront of our observations, understandings, and interactions with young people, both individually as well as collectively. 

By Lindsey Sherwin

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