These suggestions come from my experience teaching yoga to teens in schools. The ideas can also be applied to yoga studio or community center settings, as well as other subjects.
A funny thing about many teenagers is that they yearn so deeply to be in charge, yet they often rebel against the responsibilities they do have.
At the end of the day, teens really want to feel the security of being well cared for.
1. Know When to Treat Teens like Adults
At the beginning of a school semester in yoga class, I like to give my teen students lots of important responsibilities; including taking roll call, setting up the room for yoga and holding each other accountable for appropriate behavior. I've learned the hard way that if I start a new class session "managing" every little thing, I will likely have to continue throughout the school year. If I hand over tasks, like opening windows for fresh air and stacking yoga mats neatly, I not only have more time to interact one on one with students, my students feel a sense of empowerment.
When a teen student comes to me with problem, I usually respond, "What do you think we should do about that?"
Giving responsibility early on is key because teens usually bring their most helpful behavior to class in the beginning. The first few days of school are generally the quietest, and then.....
2. Know When to Treat Teens like Pre-schoolers
A few weeks into a semester, things change. Teens are more comfortable in the environment. They know what to expect. They start pushing boundaries to see how far they can go. Yes, if we let them, they will sit and talk to each other for the entire class period!
One day in class many years ago, I felt as though my wonderfully responsible, mature teen class had been replaced by a bunch of pre-schoolers in giant bodies. Mind you, I LOVE pre-schoolers. They are some of my favorite beings on the planet. So, I decided to try something way out of the box.
I started class with the teen yogi's the exact same way I would with my pre-school yoga students. "Please say your name and share your favorite color today." The teens loved this. They were intrigued and the activity stopped their minds for a moment. Feeling successful, I continued. We played the exact same yoga games I play with young children, sang songs, made tunnels with our downward facing dogs. They loved every minute of it.
The trick is to know when to apply such a technique. You have to feel for it. Are your teens bouncing off the walls? Maybe try a little ring around the rosie. I'm serious! They all fall down, crack up laughing, blow off steam, and then they can focus on something a little more serious.
Remember, lots of new responsibilities are being placed in their hands. Teens are easily nostalgic for the good old days of carefree play.
3. Reveal Your Agenda
"What are we doing today?" After hearing this question a hundred times asked by teen students entering the classroom, I finally got the hint and started posting the days agenda on a white board. Teens love knowing what is coming next. This gives them a feeling of security the seek in so many ways. Of course, posting the agenda is not a contract to stick to it like glue. I let students know ahead of time that this is what I have in mind, and I am open to changes when needed.
Giving students a syllabus at the beginning of a new session does wonders for relieving anxiety about what is to come. This also gives you an opportunity to potentially share with their parents about what yoga class is covering.
4. Let them Make the Agenda
Once teens have a basic understanding of yoga foundations, let them decide what the practice will be for that day. Take suggestions, write them on index cards and then sequence the class together. Teen students will take pride in their creation and participate in a more authentic way knowing they set the plan. Grounded Kids has created a set of nifty stickers to bring sequencing alive in a whole new way.
5. Give Them a Primer
A couple of weeks before teaching a new practice, allude to it. For example, if you are planning to teach Bakasana, Crow Pose, in the third week on the month, start the month by showing students an engaging visual of the posture. You might display a poster with several variations of the pose and an empowering quote. I can almost promise some of the teens will want to learn the pose right away and others will just go ahead and try it. You can build intrigue by letting them know they will have the opportunity to learn the practice soon, once they have learned other critical skills. This will inspire them to work at mastering whatever you are teaching in the meantime.
Another way to prime teens for upcoming knowledge is to express how excited you are about sharing something new and giving it an interesting name. One year when I was deep into studying cognition and brain development, I piqued my teen students interest for a couple of weeks saying, "I can't wait for next month when we get to Yoga Brains!" When we finally got to the lesson, they were so ready that even my limited knowledge of the topic provided a launch pad for a rich exploration.