When working with youth, particularly tweens, we all know how it goes when we come in and just lay down the law.
While behavior guidelines or rules have their place, particularly when it comes to keeping youth safe, they don’t always work to get everyone on board, and they don’t always help us as leaders to create emotionally safe spaces.
But I have good news! There is a strategy that can do both of those things, if done with intention and consistency. Group Agreements are a process of working with a group of youth to establish the agreed-upon behaviors that will promote physical and emotional safety for everyone in the group. Basically, you and your youth work together to answer three basic questions:
- How do we want to feel during our time together?
- What will we do to feel this way?
- When there is conflict, what will we do?
Through answering these questions, you will come up with a set of behaviors and strategies that promote positive behavior and give youth a sense of accountability to one another.
One of the things that I really love about Group Agreements is that while they are suitable for any age (even adults!), they can be particularly powerful with tweens because of where they are developmentally. The brand new Torch Club Curriculum (more about that later!) digs into the cognitive, emotional, social, and physical development stages that youth in this age range of 10 to 13 are going through generally. A couple of highlights:
- Tweens are beginning to see themselves as responsible for their successes and failures.
- Tweens are moving from concrete thinking – focusing on the here and now, what is physically present – to abstract thinking, which relates to general ideas rather than specific people, objects or actions.
- Encouraging tweens to acknowledge their feelings and those of others will help them form positive relationships and learn important character lessons such as tolerance, respect, and being sensitive to how others feel.
- They are in the peak years for conformity and peer pressure. They are most interested in being accepted and being like their peers, and as a result, will do things with others they would never do on their own.
This perfect storm of development, which can be a rocky time both for young people and for the adults who care about them, is a great time to use Group Agreements. Tweens don’t want to feel like they are little kids, being told what to do. They want to feel a sense of empowerment, but also still need the security of boundaries. Through the process of setting up a Group Agreement as you kick off a series of program sessions, or with a leadership club, you will give them an opportunity to take ownership and set themselves up for success.
Boys & Girls Club staff are going to see Group Agreements all over our new program resources, as we are doubling down on them as a key element of a high-quality program session. You can learn more about them in the Youth Positive Club Climate Toolkit (you’ll notice they are referred to as a “collaborative” in this document) and throughout the Program Basics Suite. But to get you started, we are proud to offer this excerpt from the Torch Club Curriculum, which lays out one full 50 minute program session on Building Your Group Agreements. To download the excerpt, click the image below.
Speaking of Torch Club, FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER THERE IS A TORCH CLUB CURRICULUM!!!! Designed with Torch Club members in mind, but with applicable resources for whenever you work with tweens, this innovative curriculum is a comprehensive resource that provides everything a staff needs to know for how to plan and run an effective Torch Club.
If you aren’t familiar with them, Torch Clubs are chartered small-group leadership and service clubs within Boys & Girls Clubs. They are specifically for members ages 10-13, and are a powerful vehicle through which Club or Youth Center staff can meet the special needs of younger adolescents. Through service activities, Torch Club members identify Club and community needs and give back. I was Torch Club advisor while at the Seymour Branch of the Boys & Girls Club of the Smoky Mountains, and it was such a fun way to get to know my group of members. The relationships I built with them through Torch Club had a ripple effect throughout the rest of my programming.
The Torch Club Curriculum is seriously chock-full of so much good stuff. From the developmental milestones I referenced earlier to evaluation tools to 12 guided sessions you can use to either start or to strengthen your programming with tweens, there is something for everyone! Boys & Girls Club staff can download the entire Torch Club Curriculum on the Torch Club page on BGCA.net. From there, you can also access the active Torch Club Online Community to get the most up-to-date information on all events and activities and network with other Torch Clubs across the Movement.
The importance of the tween years cannot be understated. These years can see youth start down paths and make decisions that could have either huge positive or huge negative impacts on the rest of their lives. It is also a common transition point that can see youth fall away from their Boys & Girls Club. By connecting with them where they are at and empowering their unique strengths at this stage, we can keep tweens in the Club and set them up for their Great Future.
How have Group Agreements benefited your Club programming? What are your best tips for working with tweens? Comment below, on the BGCA Youth Development Facebook page, or email us at ClubXBlog@bgca.org to share!