Tips for Interacting with Youth

There are three R’s in the interaction with teens. These are as follows:

Rules. Set reasonable rules and enforce them.

Relevance. Understand the adolescent culture. Speak the language, be familiar with ever changing trends and customs, and know the dress code and music. Teens often do not trust adults in the first place; do not widen the gap with lack of savvy about their world.

Reward. Do not forget to reward positive behavior and attitude. It often means making a conscious effort to look for it. It is easy to fall into the habit of watch-dogging for bad behavior…Train yourself to be alert for the smallest signs of success, then reward the teen (or the group) with praise.
(From: Susan Carrell, Group Exercises for Adolescents, 1993)

The young people you interact with will react to you in a variety of ways. Some of the youth will become close to you immediately, even to the point of wanting to go home with you. This may be part of the need to find “adult” approval from people who are not parents or caregivers. On the other hand, some of the youth will come from homes where close relationships are rare, and your attention draws in child in. If teens are getting too close, too fast, it is up to you to set boundaries and limits to the relationship. You are going into this setting as a “professional”, and you should conduct yourself in a professional manner. This means that although you may have feelings to “rescue” young people or become a part of many aspects of their lives, you should limit your own involvement to the context of your scheduled interactions. It is important to help youth identify a variety resources and people that can help them. You can still be warm, and you can make a difference, but it will overwhelm you to wrap yourself in the lives of young people in this program. Talking to your supervisor about your developing feelings and challenges will give you valuable perspective.

While some young people will become attached to you immediately, others will seemingly reject you. Adolescents may “act out” or give you “attitude” in an effort to test your authority. Avoid feeling guilty about expressing your authority or using positive discipline (see page 15 for more info).

Assuring that standards of conduct and rules are followed is not the same as being the “bad guy”. Young people really do thrive when given structure, stability, and a sense of order.

Additional Resources:

Avoiding Problems



Youth Bill of Rights