Feature Article - January 2008
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Reaching the iGeneration

To Get Teens Involved, You Have to Think Like One…Sort Of

By Dana Carman

All the Years in Between

Sometime around the age of 10, kids start to fall in between the age brackets. They're not young kids anymore, but they're not technically teenagers either. They're in between, in the 10-to-13-year age range.

"Tweens are too old for little kids, but don't feel really comfortable with teenagers," said Juan Rodriguez, recreation coordinator for the City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department. "They're stuck in the middle, identifying who they feel comfortable with."

For that reason, some departments program for these audiences separately. For example, the Department of Parks and Recreation of Prince George's County hosts a "dive-in" movie—a movie at a swimming pool that is divided by age group. There's also the "Up All Night" lock-in, with entertainment, activities and free-play time. Positive Pathways for Preteens introduces social and life skills to tweens. "We program for age-appropriateness," said Adriane Clutter, youth recreation specialist.

Elk Grove sees a huge number of tweens at the monthly dance that is held just for junior high kids. "High school kids have dances through their school," said Kim Laper, Elk Grove teen coordinator. "There's not as much of a need for high school kids. They're more mobile. They can go places on their own."

A normal dance may see 400 to 500 tweens. To get into the dance, a park district ID is presented and collected. At the end of the evening, there are eight different check-out stations, split up alphabetically. A parent has to be present to sign out a youth, and IDs are returned and then shown to staff at the door before leaving.

"Parents give us a lot of good feedback," said Kim Buscemi, superintendent of recreation programming. "As a parent you want those kids to be able to get out and be in a safe, supervised environment. The kids still feel on their own, and from the parent's side, it's very well supervised."

Teen Tips
  • Stay ahead of the curve and know the latest trends for teens.
  • Involve teens in planning new programs—they know best what teens are facing.
  • Engage in open dialogue.
  • Staff members are not there to be the teens' good buddies outside of the professional setting.
  • Offer teens a variety of opportunities and activities that blend structure with freedom.
  • Consider age groups and program separately for the tween and teen audiences.
  • Push the envelope in your programming and try new things.