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What guidance is there for facilitating sessions with adolescents?

This article will look at areas to consider when planning for and facilitating your session: the culture, your role, participation, and engagement.

Tips and Hints for Facilitating Activities with Adolescents

Facilitating activities with adolescents can be challenging. It is a skill that develops with practice. Adolescents value authenticity; while facilitating may force you out of your comfort zone, there is no need to adopt a new persona to garner the respect of adolescents. This article will look at four areas to consider when planning for and facilitating your session.

Culture

At the core of facilitating a successful activity for adolescents is creating a positive culture in the setting where the activity will take place. While there are many components of a positive culture, here are three concrete steps a facilitator can take to develop one.

  • Model behaviors: At the core of a positive environment is the tone you set through your relationships with adolescents. Sincerity, respect, and empathy are essential for gaining adolescents’ trust, and practicing these qualities models the behavior you expect from them.
  • Break the ice: Keep in mind that everything from social dynamics to family matters can preoccupy an adolescent. Beginning with a quick icebreaker activity gives adolescents the opportunity to transition to your session and fosters a sense of fun and openness through an activity that anyone can do.
  • Develop norms: Before beginning any type of activity beyond an icebreaker with a group of adolescents, it is important to establish group norms. These norms are not meant to be punitive; rather, they allow adolescents to establish the rules they want shaping their session.

Facilitator’s role

As a facilitator, you ensure that activities go smoothly while also challenging and encouraging adolescents. The acronym LEAN provides a helpful framework for your role.

  • Listening: Model active listening when adolescents speak. As adolescents work through an issue, reflect back what you have heard rather than offering advice. This can be particularly helpful when adolescents disagree. Instead of jumping in and trying to solve a problem, you can mediate a conversation between adolescents by reflecting back what you have heard and helping them reach a conclusion together.
  • Energy: Approach each activity with enthusiasm and energy. Encourage adolescents to persist through a problem on their own or with one another. When necessary, ask questions to help them think through a problem.
  • Availability: Cultivate an approachable demeanor by reminding adolescents that you are available to answer any questions. Respond to all questions with respect and sincerity.
  • Neutrality: It is important not to judge ideas. Show respect for different viewpoints and allow adolescents to express their thoughts. Be attentive and intentional about whether and when you share your own beliefs or ideas. If you feel a discussion has gone too far and adolescents’ ideas are not being respected, do not hesitate to step in and redirect the conversation.

Participation

Depending on the adolescent(s), participation may come naturally, or it may not. Be aware that participation starts with a positive setting; if this does not exist, adolescents are less likely to trust one another and will be less likely to share their ideas. Here are some additional tips to create a culture of participation.

  • Avenues of entry: Incorporate multiple ways for adolescents to participate in a discussion or activity that are not necessarily reliant on speaking.
  • Think time: As tempting as it can be to jump into a question and ask for adolescents’ reactions, stop and give them time to think! Embrace silence and do not expect an immediate response.
  • Clarity: It is important to anticipate and plan for the different questions or points of confusion that an activity or question will elicit and have a plan for how you will address these. Be ready to explain, demonstrate, and appropriately scaffold complex activities.

Engagement

Keeping adolescents engaged in a topic or activity is vital to its success and potential to have a lasting impact.

  • Real-world guiding questions: When possible use thought-provoking, complex questions that cannot be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to guide an activity. These questions are often theoretical with no clear answer such as “Which is more powerful in today’s world: good or evil?”
  • Adolescent-designed activities: Allow adolescents an active role in designing and leading activities. The more autonomy you can give adolescents in making decisions that impact them, the more likely they will be to engage.
  • Opportunities to share ideas and work: The opportunity to share their work and receive feedback and affirmation from peers and you are a developmental priority for adolescents; incorporate ample opportunities in an activity’s structure for both formal and informal sharing of ideas.
References
Axner, M. (n.d.) Developing facilitation skills. Lawrence, KS: Center for Community Health and Development at the University of Kansas.
Center for Teaching Excellence (n.d.). Teamwork skills: Being an effective group member. Waterloo, Canada: Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.
Facilitators Network Singapore (n.d.). 10 tips for facilitating group activities. Singapore: Facilitator’s Network Singapore.
Wyman Teen Outreach Program (2017). The importance of strong, supportive teen-adult relationships. Eureka, M: Wyman Center.
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