Leading teens and teaching them to lead

teens as leaders

Leading teens is different than leading children and older adults. Your role is more about leading them into maturity and teaching them about adult responsibilities.

Teens are better able to handle responsibilities and understand what’s expected. However, for many older adults it seems daunting to lead teens since they have a reputation for being rebellious. What if they don’t listen? What if they “walk all over you”? Here are some tips regarding leading teens.


With teens, it’s important to respect their place in the leadership process. This is important with all ages, but teens are more aware of their own independence. So, remember that you can’t be a leader without followers! The teens have to be there for the leadership to happen.

Your respect

As noted above, respecting those you lead is important. Teens may not respond well to just being given orders; it’s more than that. One way you can show your respect to the youths in your charge is to listen to them. Really hear them, and respond respectfully to what they say. This not only shows your respect for them; it also sets a respectful tone in your group, and in so doing you’re leading by example.

Their respect

Because you’re modeling it, this shouldn’t be too hard to enforce. Ask that your teens treat each other with respect, and you can cite yourself as an example.

Be real

Teens have a pretty good sense of when something or someone is faking it. The teens in your charge are not looking for perfection; they would much rather connect with someone whose flaws they can identify with than someone distant and aloof.

That said, it’s important to guard against hypocrisy – for example, it’s okay to be real and share that you used to be a smoker while advocating that your teens not smoke; but if you are still smoking, your words will ring hollow.

Good relationships

Leading teens means assuming the role of a mentor. Mentoring means setting up an environment where learning takes place, and being available for teaching and answering questions.

In an effective leadership relationship with teens, it’s important to know when to step off and let the teen try on his or her own and when to step in. If you have a good relationship with your teens, then you will likely know them well enough to discern when to get involved and when to back off.

Teaching teens to be leaders

Leadership skills are important for all kinds of successes in life, from employment to relationships. And the general consensus is that such skills are lacking among adults and young people. Whether you have youth and young adults in your home or otherwise under your supervision, you can invest in their futures by teaching them to be leaders.

Here are some tips for teaching youth and young adults to be leaders.

Give responsibility

As a youth group leader, parent, teacher, or other authority figure, this can seem like a scary prospect. Are they ready for responsibility? Can they handle it? Give them something to be responsible for that will build their self-confidence, but don’t make it something that’s life-and-death. Take your teens’ personal skills, strengths, and weaknesses into consideration, too. Here are some examples of responsibilities for teens.

  • Running an errand for you, such as picking up something from the store. If they can’t drive, you can drop them off to run the errand.
  • Opening up a bank account.
  • Let them lead a class or group.
  • Household chores like laundry could be delegated to the young adults and teens in your home.
  • Have them organize the set-up and clean-up of an event.


One of those ironies of good leadership is that being under leadership is often a great way to learn it. Youth and young adults would do well to work at least part time, thus learning responsibility and also learning what is involved in good leadership. Having a job is an important responsibility that can prepare young people to lead.

Consider jobs like camp counselor or babysitter, too. Those are both jobs that put young people in charge of others.


Are there leadership workshops available in your area? If not, see if you can hire a leadership consultant to come in and speak to your group. Maybe you can find someone to speak to your teen’s class, or hold a seminar on your young adult’s college campus. If there is a workshop available, take your youth group to the workshop, or sign your kids up.


Organizations like Boy and Girl Scouts are also good ways for young adults and youth to learn leadership skills. Don’t let the names “boy” and “girl” deter you – there are all kinds of opportunities in these organizations for youth and young adults. Other clubs and groups encourage leadership among members, too. Find out about what is offered in your community – even your local YMCA/YWCA might have some ideas or programs.

See also:

Riding a horse to build confidence
Confidence 101
The power of positivity in self-belief


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