Working with Teens: A Resource Guide

by Dr. Jessie Voigts /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
Jun 14, 2014 / 0 comments

Do you work with youth and wonder if there’s more that you could be doing? Join the club – whether you’re a parent, coach, educator, or mentor, you know that when it comes to working with teens, there’s always more to learn. For, you see, each teen is different – and it’s wise to be as knowledgeable as possible so as to provide the best learning and working experience for both of you.

Luckily, we discovered a remarkable handbook for working with youth! Written by William B. Kearney, Equipping Quality Youth Development Professionals is a complete guide to working with kids of all ages, although I focused most on the teen section, since I work with several groups of teens from around the world in varying contexts. The book is easy to read, full of excellent suggestions, and serves as a manual you can return to again and again. I highly recommend it!


Equipping Quality Youth Development Professionals


I was eager to learn more from the author, as well as share this extraordinary book with our readers. We were lucky enough to catch up with Mr. Kearney to get the backstory and learn more – here’s what he had to say…


Please tell us about your book, Equipping Quality Youth Development Professionals…

Equipping Quality Youth Development Professionals is a handy, easy to read, reference for child and youth development professionals and volunteers. It offers activities and resources that are aligned with young people’s growth and development needs. The book is organized by age and developmental domains, including: physical, cognitive, social, and emotional areas; and sub-areas developed to make the content easier to digest for someone who has not taken child and adolescent development courses. The real value is how it bridges the gap between child and youth development theory and practice by providing scientifically validated content with how to apply the content and practitioner-friendly activities and resources. Equipping Quality Youth Development Professionals delivers content that is relevant and applicable for most youth program settings.

Interestingly, the book really started out as the content for our iPad/iPhone app — E-QYP — in 2012. We wanted to bring the level of information and resources described above using the power and accessibility of today’s mobile technology platforms. With the creation of the E-QYP app, we heard from a lot of people that they would like to have a print copy of the app’s information. Additionally, a number of University professors were encouraging us to publish the app content as a practical supplement to child and adolescent development course textbooks. The publishing now of Equipping Quality Youth Development Professionals in book form makes it that much more accessible for youth development professionals who want to interact with the content in print or e-book form.


What inspired you to write this book?

I just celebrated my 37-year anniversary working in the youth service field. I have seen thousands of child and youth programs in a wide range of settings from church basements to military installations; from Indian reservations to inner cities. I have seen exemplary programs and activities and wonderful staff and child interactions where you know the magic of positive youth development is occurring. I’ve also seen too many programs where the staff and volunteers seem overwhelmed, or disengaged with the group of kids or teens with whom they are working. When I talk to these adults, they are frustrated and feel they haven’t been given the training and information that would help them succeed with kids in their charge. Administrators share they don’t have the budget, time or resources to properly train their staff and volunteers.

I firmly believe that all volunteers and staff start their work with youth programs wanting to succeed and help make a difference in young people’s lives. I wanted to develop resources for those people to put a low cost, practitioner-driven, yet research based tool in their hands — whether book or smart device app — that can help them succeed. I wanted to connect them to our broader field so they don’t feel alone and that they have support to succeed. I wanted to provide volunteers and direct-care staff with information that empowers them with knowledge, skills and attitudes they can use in their interactions and program activities with kids.


What is the biggest change you have seen for youth development professionals regarding the advent and popular use of the Internet?

We have seen the large investment and then upgrading of computer labs for kids across a wide range of child development and youth program settings. Having a computer lab is almost a necessity for youth programs today. Parents and children expect it. Fast Internet streaming is fundamental to these labs.

Three changes for youth development professionals immediately come to mind.

First, our young program participants are often times more tech savvy than most of our program staff and volunteers. This can lead to staff or volunteers (and parents!) not knowing how to control or set boundaries for how to use the Internet and smart devices appropriately. This can lead to inappropriate use such as surfing inappropriate websites, cyber bullying, and unwanted contacts/sexual solicitation. We can address this by having the right controlling software on computers, and providing internet/smart device safety and social media etiquette courses for our young people. However it still takes all of our adults being trained as proactive coaches, observers and interveners to be able to see misuse of the Internet as well as signs of cyber bullying or unwanted contact, in order to help teens.

Secondly, if we let it, the Internet and use of social media/texting can be all consuming for our pre-teens and teens. In a sense we are competing for their attention. Volunteers and staff have to be that much more creative to engage youth in planning and doing activities. This may include allowing them to do research and look for ideas on the Internet that contribute to the activity. I believe creative, caring adults who empower young people to plan and implement (and then later review) fun and engaging activities will always win the day. If you show up with less than that, you will be competing with their smartphones and other diversions.

Finally, while there have been the advances with programmatic resources for youth programs, there have not been the same advances to support the workers and volunteers. E-QYP was the first app dedicated to this audience. There is a dearth of professional and volunteer development resources, compared to other industries. In addition to the E-QYP app, we recently published E-QYP.NET to provide a resource dashboard (over 350+ youth development web links), and a sharing blog for articles, as well as educational and “How To” videos. There are other websites supporting professional and volunteer development, and we try to list them on our E-QYP Resource Dashboard.


I noticed in your book you talk about exploring cultures (both their own and others). Do you have any suggestions for groups of teens that are from a variety of different global cultures?

We can start with the diversity in our own communities and within our schools and youth programs. Have our teens identify ways to incorporate different cultures into our physical environments, healthy eating, program activities, guest speakers and special events. For example, have a veteran talk about what they learned about the Iraqi or Afghani culture during their time in those countries. It’s important to make culture part of the fabric of the program for it to be real, rather than something done once or twice. Also tapping into current events and sports - like the World Cup or the Olympics is an opportunity for teens to learn about and appreciate other cultures.

The Internet has made us a smaller, global community. There are fun and creative things you can do, from researching and learning about different countries and different cultures, to connecting with other teens around the world that are also exploring their larger world. You can start an explorers club of teens who are interested in learning more about other places and take it from there!

Your Wandering Educators Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program is a wonderful example of a teen program that taps into cultural exploration. By taking pictures and videos and writing about travel experiences, you are not only developing and honing those skills, but you are processing your learning and understanding of other cultures, even within your own community! And they see that there are like-minded teens from other cultures around the world that they are interacting with. Bravo!


What's your best advice for someone starting to work in youth development (besides reading your book!)?

I would always start with “show up.” Be there, be present, be in the moment, and know the impact you can have on the lives of young people. Young people can “sense” if you are there for them or not.

Embrace orientation and training opportunities and ask questions to get comfortable with your role and responsibilities.

Be a constant learner. Look for training and learning opportunities to continue to grow in your role. Ask others about good resources and develop your own. Talk to and learn from colleagues you respect and even look for a mentor.

If you really love the work and decide this is what you want to do with your life, look for what you need for the advancement of your career. There are some certification programs for youth professionals; you can get an associates degree, a bachelors, or beyond. For those looking to manage youth programs, Clemson University, as an example, has a wonderful distance learning, graduate degree in Youth Development Leadership. Our field needs to nurture and bring along our future leaders who are starting their work today.


Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

Sure, relevant to your group, Wandering Educators, I would want to stress the importance of exposing children and youth to different places and different experiences, starting within our own communities and then working out to the larger world. When I ran a community center in North Philadelphia, I took a group of teens directly south 17 blocks to the Liberty Bell. They had never been there. I knew we were their chance to travel and see the world. We set up basketball games with organizations in NYC; we planned a stay-over trip for parents with young children to visit a farm, something they had never done.

It’s also important to bring “Wandering” resources in. We had older teens from Northern Ireland stay at the community center for a weekend, a wonderful experience for all. We looked for who we could have visit and talk with our teens. You are a wonderful resource to others as you travel, so I encourage you to make local youth programs part of your travel.








Note: We received a review copy from the publisher to facilitate this interview. I (and my students!) thank you!