Recruiting and retaining teenagers is a HOT TOPIC right now across Boys & Girls Clubs. While it should remain a top priority, we may be missing one important way to increase teen membership- investing in tweens who will soon be teens themselves.
The word “tween” refers to pre-adolescent youth in the “in-between” stage of their development and puberty. Typically, tweens are between 10 and 12 years of age. This time of a young person’s life is marked by rapid and dramatic change in social, physiological, and emotional development. Realizing this, many Clubs are recognizing tweens as a distinct group, with distinct programming needs. For more about the development of tweens, including their unique physical, cognitive, and social characteristics, check out Section 3 of the Program Basics BLUEprint.
Clubs may have members from elementary school (K-5th grade), middle school (6th-8th grade) and junior high (7th-9th grade). Each Club must decide which group will make up its tween population. It is also important that Clubs refer to tweens in ways that resonate with their members. For example, if tween members are in junior high school, the Club might call them “Juniors.” Use the term for tweens that best fits your members.
Here are some things to keep in mind as you develop a tween strategy for your Club:
Tweens need their own distinct space and time (either actual physical space/time or space/time that is perceived as their own). Providing this can allow Clubs to have programming that is unique for tweens, while reinforcing that they are no longer part of the younger members group in the Club. As tweens age, they begin to pull away from the play associated with younger youth. Setting aside this time and space can take lots of different forms. For example, giving them their own part of the Gamesroom, providing special privileges or other identifiers, hosting tween events on the weekends or late nights, or setting aside program spots for tweens only can effectively demonstrate that they are not the younger members and show tweens that they have their own, specific identity as a group.
Programs need to be adapted to reflect the particular needs of tweens. At this age, youth begin to experiment with independence, trying out new things and becoming involved in self-directed activities (such as sports, musical instruments, etc.). To foster this new sense of independence and help tweens develop their leadership skills, members should be given a role in choosing, planning, and delivering Club programs for both their own age group and for the Club’s younger members. Developing a “Tween Council” or giving this responsibility to Torch Club will allow members to feel that they are selecting activities that are fun for them. It will also enhance their sense of belonging to the Club. Staff interactions and guidance can help ensure that the program is balanced with fun and learning. Leadership opportunities will also provide tweens with a sense of competence and responsibility.
Delivery of programs and messages need to relate to tweens. Tweens are particularly technology savvy. Many of them learned to use a smartphone before they learned to read. Clubs need to offer technology-focused, project-based programming like MyFuture. Finally, tween programming must be strictly differentiated from teen programming. These two groups have very different needs. While “Teen Center Preview” days may be a fun idea to help tweens want to remain members of the Club, you don’t want to alienate your teens by joining the groups too often.
Tweens are a distinct category of Club members who need to be recognized more deliberately. Clubs need to treat the transition period from younger members to tweens intentionally. Making special efforts to recognize their movement into the older age category sets them apart and gives them something to look forward to. Moving tweens to a new group can reenergize them to stay involved with the Club.
Consider how this may impact their transitions into the Teen Center as well. Due to differences in individual development and the fact that their class cohort may not turn 13 at the same time, this transition should be based on individual readiness and staff and youth input. It is also important for this age to “move” with the peers they identify with. Consider making it optional for new 13 year olds to go to the Teen Center or to remain with their class peers.
Communicating the uniqueness of belonging to this age group to parents and caregivers, as well as school officials that may make referrals, can help encourage tweens to choose the Club as a fun afterschool option. Gear these efforts toward tweens and ask for their input about the activities you offer and how they are advertised. This both helps the group maintain ownership and makes it more likely they will invite their friends. Consider:
- Having an active Torch Club and recruiting both active Club members as well as previous members who may now be eligible to participate
- Offer free one-day passes to youth who attend the Club with a current tween member
- Offer incentives to tween members who invite friends to the Club
- Planning tween socials, free to all community tweens, or tween-only nights for members
- Sending postcards from Club staff to eligible tweens inviting them to the Club
- “Where have you been/we’ve missed you” phone calls from staff members- directly calling the tweens who haven’t visited the Club in more than two weeks. Remember safety first- only call from official Club phones and have two staff on each call.
- Tween-only field trips
- If there is a community park where tweens gather after school, having staff visit the park and encouraging youth to come to the Club
Because of the independence that tweens begin to experience and the additional out-of-school activities available to them, such as school sports, Clubs need to reach out to and work with tweens differently than younger members. Your very best resource will be the tweens themselves, both for ideas and inspiration and for their wide social networks. Above all don’t forget- today’s tweens are tomorrow’s teens!
To learn more about Torch Club, chartered small-group leadership and service clubs for youth ages 10-13, visit BGCA.net. If you have any specific Torch Club or tween related questions, or want to start getting the Torch Club Corner newsletter, email firstname.lastname@example.org. This post is adapted from a longer printable resource featured in that newsletter.