My Top 5 Tips for Working with Teens as Volunteers

by Erin McKelle

Working with youth can be a challenging but rewarding experience. I myself am only 17 and have been involved in many different volunteering and activist projects, from working in a rape crisis center to leading a clothing project to help boost girl’s self-esteem. I also have worked with youth younger than myself at a youth engagement agency, helping to put-together and run their summer program, Change Agent Fellowship.

I think that working with young people is essential for any non-profit or charity. We can bring such a fresh, new perspective and boatloads of energy! It can also give you a new platform of folks that you can reach. I truly believe in working with people of all ages and have seen the benefits of collaboration between youth and adults.

Here are my top 5 tips for working with youth as volunteers:

1) Incentivize. Everyone likes a good incentive. Therefore, if you have some kind of incentive for young volunteers that will make us want to work with you, it’s even better! Teen are also usually very busy between school, sports, extracurricular activities and friends so you want to separate yourselves from the pack. Perhaps have a prize drawing or allow us to use our volunteer work for service hours. You could even give us opportunities to work with/meet people who are in the career fields we aspire to. Anything can work, just be creative!

2) Make it Fun! Give teens the easier more enjoyable responsibilities. If there is an opportunity to work with people directly, let us do it. If you need a photographer or videographer, give us the responsibility. Or even recruit us as bloggers or web developers to help run your website. If you can put some aspect of fun into the job, we will be much more likely to volunteer again!

3) Give Us the Chance to Lead. A lot of adults hesitate to trust youth with leadership roles and feel we won’t take it seriously or won’t be responsible enough. However, giving us a lot of responsibility can make us step up to the plate. It really can boost our confidence and give us valuable skills we can use in other volunteer opportunities (which then you could recruit us for!). Also, if you are worried about how we will handle it, perhaps use a group of teens instead of just one. That way, we can rely on each other and have fun at the same time, by getting to interact with our peers.

4) Set Clear Guidelines. I’ve found that often youth need specific instructions to follow when we are doing a task. I think this comes from how they we taught and led in school– cause A gets result B. Don’t leave anything unsaid, make sure that you are very clear and precise. I’ve found that a lot of issues with young volunteers come in when there is too much lost in translation.

5) Don’t Treat Us Like Children. I’ve personally had a lot of frustration in various volunteer opportunities that stemmed from adults treating me as if I had no capabilities. It is very hard to deal with and makes me not want to return. Do not fall into this! Treat us with the same level or respect that you would any adult and don’t baby us. If you treat us as equals, you will get fantastic results. Don’t be an authoritarian and let us have the freedom to contribute our ideas and talents!

The most important thing to remember is respect all around and I can’t emphasize this enough. Make it fun and feel-good! Work with teens like you would anyone else and it should be a great experience for everyone!

Erin McKelle is a social justice activist, blogger, student, and avid reader. She is studying sociology and creative writing and working as an advocate for non-profits. She can be found blogging at Fearless Feminism, The Whole Living, and writing poetry at The Meaning of Luv. Most nights, she can be found in bed with a cup of coffee, a pile of books, and her laptop.

This entry was posted in Episodic Volunteering, Generations, Recruitment, Retention and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to My Top 5 Tips for Working with Teens as Volunteers

  1. Meaghan says:

    Wow! This is so spot-on, and it is hard to believe that a 17 year old can reflect on her own experiences and speak to them so eloquently! Great job!

  2. Erin says:

    Oh dear,

    Judging by the above comment #5 must happen all the time. Even when it’s well meaning being talked down to sucks

    I’m going to think more carefully before I speak to teens in the future and hopefully I’ll lower my level of un-knowing condescension

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