How does teaching leadership to teens differ from teaching adults?

Leadership is leadership – the principles, skills and techniques are the same for any age. But teaching leadership skills to teens is different from teaching it to adults in a number of ways.

  • Adults in a leadership program typically choose to be in such a program. For teens, learning leadership is often secondary to other goals – such as making friends.
  • Leadership skills, like most other skills, require practice. Adults typically have more opportunities to practice such skills than teens do. So part of the challenge in a teen program is to create such opportunities.
  • Many adults have a tendency to be condescending when working with teens, and to step in sooner to “fix problems” when dealing with teens than they would be for adults. Teens can be more sensitive to this than adults and can react by rejecting even the good parts of the training when presented poorly. Teaching teens therefore often requires greater care and attention than teaching adults.
  • Adults tend to take adults more seriously than they do teens – but if you don’t take teens seriously, is harder for them to take themselves seriously.
  • When teaching adults, the students are ultimately responsible for their own actions. But when teaching teens, the teacher carries at least some of the responsibility for the actions of the students. This is inevitably more stressful on the teacher.
  • When teaching adults it is relatively easy to make the lessons relevant – as leadership issues are inevitable in any workplace.  It is more difficult to make the lessons relative to teens, yet more important to do so than it is with adults. You need to translate the skills you wish to teach into a context that makes sense to the teens.
  • Because teens are younger than adults – they are less likely to think things out , and have less life experience on which to base decisions.  Some adults tend to interpret this as them being less intelligent than adults, which is not the case. It just often takes them a bit longer to come up with a good decision, and it is necessary for teachers to allow that extra time.
  • Adults often “cherry pick” the “best” teens to work with. However, the called “troublemakers” often have best leadership skills and potential – it just need some direction.

Not all of the differences in teaching leadership to teens are negative.

  • Teens tend to learn faster than adults – they have fewer bad habits to unlearn.
  • Teens, especially the younger ones, are still changing rapidly. The leadership skills they gain can become a permanent part of their character.
  • Teens often don’t know what they can’t do, so they do it anyway. As such, they can accomplish things that adults would never dream of.