Older teens have an important role to play as mentors to their younger peers. Middle schoolers look up to high school and college students and trust them to offer knowledgeable, relevant guidance, without patronizing or judging them.
I promised myself that if I ever had an opportunity to help someone who had experienced abuse as I have, I would help them.” — Youth Leader, Start Strong Bronx
- Leverage Resources: To get older teens involved, partner with other youth-focused organizations, even if they do not have programs about healthy relationships or teen dating violence. Some of the best successes in Start Strong came through programs that were already connecting with potential youth leaders, whether through the arts, community outreach or at-risk intervention.
- Build a Great Team: Great teen leaders can come in all packages, and your team should reflect the diversity of voices in your community. Invest in them by giving them the training they need to thrive. It is important to recognize leadership potential in all teens, wherever they are coming from.
- Give and Take: Recognize that even older teens are still maturing, and use their time with you as an opportunity to offer value to them. This requires focusing adequate resources and attention on engaging older teens in activities that they enjoy and find beneficial to their own development. Investing in training opportunities can help your teen mentors grow into better public speakers, creative campaign collaborators, and experienced project managers. Consider offering resume workshops, training in professionalism and other skill-building opportunities.
- Give Them a Seat at the Table: Embrace youth leaders and really include them. Invest time into mentoring and training them on the issues and be willing to incorporate the leadership and vision they offer. They need to know that they are much more than token participants acting on command. Give them a real role in the program and be prepared to allow for genuine participation.
- Recognize Teens’ Needs: Youth leadership programs and trainings need to happen during after-school hours. Be cognizant of barriers—homework loads, transportation needs, babysitting for younger siblings, etc. Consider offering stipends if you can. For older teens and college students who might otherwise have paying jobs, even a small stipend can go a long way.