Why youth groups?

Whether it is a formal group such as a scout troop, school club or youth group sponsored by a local religious institution, or an informal group such as a group of friends who like to hang out at a local YMCA or at each other’s houses, youth groups offer some of the best opportunities for teens to develop leadership skills.
The reason has to do with ownership – the ability to take responsibility and make decisions in the context of the group.
Think about it. At home, most of the key family decisions belong to the parents. At school, key decisions on scheduling and curriculum often aren’t even in the hands of the teacher, much less the students. Yes, you can create opportunities for teens to exercise leadership at home and in the classroom, but it is challenging. But teens can have real ownership over their own groups.
Everyone knows that the teenage years are when individuals start caring greatly about their peers – about fitting in and belong to a group. So it is very common for teens to care about the groups they belong to – and to want those groups to succeed (at whatever the goals of the group are). It is also relatively easy for teens to have real control over these groups.
So where do the adult advisors fit in? Whether a formal position such as scoutmaster, or an informal role such as a trusted parent who is available to a casual group of friends, the adult advisor has a unique opportunity to help the teens in the group develop leadership skills. Because you’re dealing with a teen community, where the teens care about the group and want it to succeed, they have a real incentive to listen to advice that they perceive is supporting their goals. Why, they might even ask for advice once they find out that you actually know what you are talking about. And finally, they have the opportunity to follow the advice – to try out the techniques you teach and see how they work.
It is, in short, the perfect scenario. Teens who have a goal, an advisor available to teach them techniques that can help them achieve that goal, and an opportunity for them to actually use that knowledge.
Here’s an example:
Your teen and five friends want to go see a movie.

“Mom, can you take us to the movies?”

You could answer: “Sure.. let me check. There are films at 7pm, have Jill call her mom because you can’t all fit in my car. Do any of your friends need money for the film? Here’s some extra money for dinner. I’ll pick you up at 9:00 and tell Jill’s mom to do the same. It will be cold, be sure you bring your jacket”.
But that’s an answer for a child.
Consider this conversation.

“Sure. What time do the films start?”

“I don’t know”

“Well, find out.”


“You have a computer – look it up”

Grumble grumble… time passes.

“There’s a show at 7pm”

“Excellent. How do you plan to get there?”

“Can’t you drive us?”

“Sure, but I can only hold carry four of you”

“What should I do?”

“What do you think?”

Grumble, grumble… more time passes as they work on the problem

“Jill’s mom can also drive”

“Excellent. How much does the film cost?”

“I don’t know.. $10?”

“Don’t guess – look it up. Remember, 3D films cost extra”

Back to the computer… more time passes

“It’s $13.50”

“Do you all have money”

Back to the group… more research…

“Could you loan Jason some money? His mom will pay you back”

“Sure. What time will you need to be picked up?”

“Uh…. About 9?”

“I don’t want to be waiting around in the cold. Look it up.”

“I can’t find the exit time online?”

“How long is the film?”

“It says 1 ½ hours”

“Well, the previews are probably another 15 minutes, so if the film starts at 7 you should be out at about 8:45 – so 9 is a good guess.  It’s about dinner time… what are you going to do about food?”

Back to the group… more time passes…

“We can stop at a fast food place on the way.”

“Sounds good. What’s the weather like – do you need a sweater?”

“No, I don’t need one”

Look outside. “Yes, you do – sorry, but I’m the one who has to look after you when you’re sick, so that’s how it has to be.”


“By the way, it’s 7:15 and the movie started 15 minutes ago”


“I guess we’ll stay in and watch a video. Can we order pizza takeout?”

Now I know what you’re thinking. This was a failure, right?
Because next time, the conversation might go like this:

“Mom, can you take us to the movies? They start at 7pm and Jill’s mom can also drive us both ways. I need $20 for the movie and some food, and Jason needs to borrow money, but his mom will pay you back tomorrow. Can we go?”

“Sounds good. What’s the weather like – do you need a sweater?”

“No, I don’t need one”

Look outside. “Yes, you do – sorry, but I’m the one who has to look after you when you’re sick, so that’s how it has to be.”


Congratulations – your teen is now a leader.
Teens with a goal + a trusted adult teaching skills to achieve that goal + the opportunity to use those skills = real learning.
“Developing Teen Leadership” will teach you how to adapt this approach to your interactions with teens wherever it is possible.