3.7. What to keep in mind when working with youngsters

The aim of this toolkit is to give you some basic understanding of what you should keep in mind when working with youngsters. Much has been written on psychological and pedagogical aspects related to dealing with youngster and there is no way that we will be able to go through all aspects. However, we see the need to make you aware of the following aspects as they may help you to design the workshop and prepare yourself accordingly.

Special needs and problems of youngsters

As you might remember from your teenage days , growing up means to be in constant search of one’s own identity. It is also the time when we start to create our own value system which will influence our life. This is usually a very difficult time and often connected to the feeling of loneliness and dissent. Young people very often feel alone with their inner conflicts and have doubts about themselves. Youngsters desperately long for approval from others but at the same time also long to be independent. Testing ones boundaries is part of this process as well as trying to fight everything and everyone who wants to limit their freedom. Receiving approval from peers is often more important than respect for oneself. Therefore, the biggest challenge for young people is the confrontation between their ideal and real self. Young people want to be ideal as they imagine it to be, in order to receive the needed approval from others. Many have their idols. Young girls dream of being an artist, actor or singer. Young boys of being a known athlete or musician. Dealing with youth you have to accept that they are thinking that way and that it is not easy for them to accept the difference between their ideal and real self.

In order to help you remember and accept on how youth acts and thinks you can always do the following exercise:

Imagine that the clock turned backwards and you are making a journey in time.

You are now 14 years old. Imagine what was for you most important back then. Now write down three things (words) that are most important to you, by ranking them, one, two, three.

Think about it, do your answers seem similar to those of todays 14 year old? I bet they do. If you do not believe me please as a group of 14 year olds on what is most important to them in their life.

Now please think about it what is most important for you now in your life. Write down three things ( words) that are most important to you by ranking them, one, two, three.

Do you see a difference? I bet that even if some of the thinks are the same they are not equally as important to you as when you were 14.


“When working with youth, do not make the mistake of presenting your values as being superior to their values. You cannot communicate with youth at the values level.”

Zdisław Hofann, Teacher & Trainer, Volunteering Development Foundation

Our values are changing and the older we are the more they are evolving. It is very difficult to connect with someone based on values and the biggest conflicts arise due to differences in values.

The biggest conflict between generations is usually between generations closesed to each other in terms of age. Usually the older ones do not understand the younger ones. This was true a long time ago and still is now. The conflict between generations amplifies the more a given civilization in living in a stable and prosperous economy. Conflict is only non-existent when there are many dangers that can influence a given civilization.

What to do in order to connect with youngsters?

The answer is by …

… building relations. Even if you do not agree with the other person based on values never give up on finding a way to build a relationship between the two of you. Try to find something, a common interest or task which allows you to connect.

Try to do things together which allow to create a common experience e.g singing, dancing, playing. However, make sure that the person/group is able to do those things easily .

… accepting the other person the way he/she is. However, this does not mean that we cannot accept a certain behavior. Accepting a person should not be mixed up with accepting a certain behavior.

Try not to assess the person in front of you, be aware that the first impression might not always be true. Moreover, based on a certain behavior you cannot create the whole picture about a given person.

… not stating your expectations towards that person, as he/she might feel overwhelmed by it.

Be authentic, do not play a role. Show the person you are, as especially young children have a very good instinct of judging if someone is fake or not.

… showing empathy and having the ability to see a situation from the perspective of the other person.

… focusing on the here and now, the person in front of you. Be positive and give all your attention to the person or group. This will help not to build up presumptions about the person in front of you

… try to focus especially, without making it too obvious, on the person in the group which might be the most vulnerable, or the leader of the group.

When the group is large

It is more difficult to connect with large groups therefore you need to use certain techniques which will help you. The relation that you are building with the group is not going to be very deep, especially as the workshop you are going to conduct will be just a few hours long, however try to build a good atmosphere.

Examples of such techniques you can find under the scenario section in this toolkit . Please select those which to be fun and therefore create a good atmosphere and energy. More links to documents with energizer and teambuilding scenarios you can also find of the YourKITE webpage: www.yourkite.org

What helps young people to learn?

Make it short

Please keep in mind that humans have a limited capacity of concentration and this capacity is proportional to age. The younger the participants the harder it is for him/her to stay focused. Therefore, think about achieving the goal of your workshop in the shortest possible time and moreover plan in enough breaks and energizers too keep the participants involved.

Make it interactive

As mentioned earlier the best way to learn for young people is to learn through experience. Therefore the workshop you are preparing should allow the participants to be involved as much as possible. If you have to give an presentation than try to make it short, not more than 10 minutes at a time. When your teenage participants start to loose interests in what you are saying, it is time to change the activity and get the participants involved. Play a quick game to refresh and which allows the participants to move. The same is true when doing activities that take longer to complete, like for instance drawing a poster. Allow the participants to have a break from it and make them move.

Let them be in charge

This does not mean you should let the participants do the workshop on their own. This rather means that you should take upon the role of a facilitator, at least for some parts of the workshop, and guide the participants without interfering too much to reach the goal of the activity. Moreover, recognize the participants opinions and ideas by asking the whole group or/and individuals on what they think/feel, on if they have other ideas or if they would do something different.

Let them feel safe

We learn best when we feel safe – it means we are more able to take risks, and more willing to try out things and explore new ideas. Especially for a young person feeling safe in a group is extremely important as it will impact directly the level of activity in the workshop. What makes a person feel safe varies from person to person and it is important to keep that in mind. However, there are a view guidelines which can help to construct a ‘safe environment’.

  1. Help participants to get to know each other. Build a positive and trusting atmosphere by playing with the participants name games get to know each other ( see scenarios on introduction). Give them also small group tasks and try to mix the group as often as possible.
  2. Vary the group size. Many young people find it easier to express themselves in a pair or small group. However, there are also persons who prefer impersonal bigger groups. Observe how the participants react in various group sizes and make adjustments accordingly.
  3. Build trust in your role. Participants might project the image of a school teacher onto you. Help them realize what a workshop is and that it is more empowering, that participants need to be active themselves and that the more active they are the more they will learn. Show them what kind of person you are. Tell them something about yourself, what you do and what our hobbies are. Try to create a good atmosphere , by smiling and making jokes.
  4. Develop a contract with the group. Define together with the group on how they want to work together. Please keep in mind that creating the rules with youth might take longer as you also need to work out with them on why certain rules are important. ( please also see the part on contract page…) Be consequent and do not allow for exemptions from the rules as else you might lose the groups respect.
  5. Let them understand the objective of the workshop and certain activities. As for adults, it is important that youngsters know what ‘good’ learning something gives them. It will help if give real life examples on where and how they can use the new knowledge and abilities. Unlike young children, who often learn for the pleasure of learning, youngsters as adults also need a reason to learn.

Be flexible

You need to be well prepared for the workshop and have a clear vision of the structure in order to make it attractive. However, you should be also flexible enough to adapt the program of the workshop to unexpected situations in the group. Avoid to stick to the planned program at all cost. Make sure to have extra activities in mind and know which parts to leave out, if needed.

Make rapport

Try to make yourself liked. If the group will not like you they will not work with you. Therefore, be friendly from the start, use humor and smile. Make sure to talk to the youngsters in the breaks and address their concerns in case they mention them. It also involves getting to know their names and maybe mention something that you have in common with them. However, this does not mean that you should take their side in case they are in conflict with someone. Listen and let them make their point , eventually, make them aware of the others side point of view.

Provide positive feedback

Youngsters want to receive approbation and therefore positive feedback is very important to them. If they like and respect you your approval will be of very high value to them therefore do not miss give your feedback to the group after each activity and at the end of the workshop.