How to Interact with Youth in Groups

Here are some things you can do to interact with youth in a positive way, facilitating wonderful and open writing, while orienting your work to personal and institutional boundaries:

  • Be high on expectations of the youth (“You have important things to say and can say them beautifully.”)

  • Be low key about possible results (“Writing can be difficult for anyone, and it can be hard to express or listen to difficult feelings.”)

  • Involve the youth in setting expectations and rules (“How would you like the group to go today? How would you like people to behave toward one another?”)

  • Listen and give people a sense of control, where it isn’t disruptive or distracting. (“You said you are having a hard time reading my handwriting? Thanks for letting me know. I will try to write more carefully.”)

  • If someone’s behavior seems to be wrong, recognize your own feelings of discomfort in the situation

  • Be high on hopes for individual success (“I would really like it if we can work this out so you can be here.”)

  • Provide opportunities for youth to offer solutions (“What would you like to do to improve this situation, or what would you like me to do?”)

  • Keep limit setting focused on yourself and the group without drawing conclusions or judging perpetrator (“I don’t know exactly what is happening between the two of you right now, but I’m concerned that it will distract from the writing activity, so I am asking you to….”

  • Articulate your concerns clearly (“I’m not comfortable with what is happening right now because people seem to be getting angry”)

  • Approach a situation with a neutral tone and without blame (“This is what needs to happen next…”)

  • Assert higher principles (“It seems like the fairest thing to me if we…”)

  • Take charge by returning the situation to a normal, controlled environment (“Let’s end the session now, and I will work with you again when things settle down.”)

  • It is possible to assert limits with humility, humor, appreciation, distraction (“I may be wrong in my assessment of this situation, but…” or “Are you in a silly mood, and does this happen often?” or “I think you did a great job for the first 30 minutes of this activity.” or “Let’s take a break to stretch.”)

  • Ask for advice from colleagues anytime (“I’m feeling uncomfortable in this situation, can you help?”)

  • Ask for help from a higher institutional authority or an experienced limit-setter in the environment (“I will have to take this issue to your staff.”)

  • This last item actually refers to work you do in advance of class – Put yourself in a position to succeed (with a minimum of limit setting) by being prepared. Have multiple activity options, especially if you have a new or changing group of teens. Create activity options with consideration for different skill levels and energy levels. Also, have a back up plan, with an activity that is diverting and quiet (such as a survey of music tastes) in case you have time to kill or some significant disruption to the class to smooth over.