Resource Guide: Serving Troubled Teens

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Underserved teens and

  • Write up simple expectations and rules for the book discussion. Keep them short and simple (no more than five). Make sure it is something they have basic control over and that abides by the institution's the policies (i.e., they may not be able to attend each session in some situations due to a lockdown, court appearances, etc). Ask the youth for input when developing these expectations.

  • Familiarize yourself with the institution's reward and penalty system and incorporate it into your program rules.

  • One of the best ways to deal with disruptive youth is to walk toward them and make eye contact while you continue with the lesson plan. If a youth is needy (i.e., acting out, asking a million questions, and in general making sure they are the center of attention), stand by them so that all eyes of the class are on them. Rather than have their unmet needs run the show, keep your focus and give them the attention they need by standing near them, walking among them, looking them in the eye, etc.

  • Be sure to establish boundaries and to enforce them consistently. Ask the staff what the consequences are for inappropriate behavior. Often the youth get "room time," then a write up, etc. There will be different wording and levels in different institutions. It is likely that you will need to send a youth out of the room, give them room time, etc. and show them that you understand and will enforce the rules. Often this population will test you until you follow through with the stated consequences. Once you do this, and don't try to reason with them or give them multiple chances, but instead show that you mean business and will do what it takes to have a successful class, they will generally respect you, calm down, and your session will proceed.

  • Some youth may possess personas that you find intimidating or scary. Although it is true that you are working with youth who have little impulse control and can be violent, for the most part, if you relate to them as a caring human being, they will respond in kind.

  • If the youth are having a hard time relating to a book, help them build connections with simple activities, such as a writing exercise where they write about themselves. Make sure you tell them not to worry about spelling, grammar, etc.

  • Remember confidentiality. In general, use first names only when speaking about the youth.

  • Before you give anything to the youth, check with a supportive staff person first. This includes items such as paper, envelopes, food--things you would never think you'd have to check with staff first about. Check with staff to see if bringing food is ok, and have that as a reward for after the program.

  • Allow extra time to pass out paper and pencils. In most institutions you will have to count the pencils and make sure you have them all back in your possession before you leave.

  • Staff may interrupt your program by participating in ways that are contrary to your goals, such as lecturing the youth or writing a youth up. Over time you will find a balance between respecting the staff actions and maintaining the integrity of the group session.

  • Many youth in institutions have a history of abuse. Remember that these youth may not have a lot of family or other support, and be mindful of that when guiding discussions.

  • Plan for the future. After you are established in the institution (having worked to establish your credibility by your excellent programming and attitude), you will have unlimited choices and options of whom to work with and how your program runs.