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Many recent news stories have dealt with the negative side of peer pressure and bullying – especially for those kids who might not “fit in” as well as others. I’d like to focus on the power of positive peer pressure. Over the past five years, I spent many weekends facilitating music festivals at my church as a fundraiser for our youth. This entails overseeing our high school youth while they assist visiting bands who are competing on our campus. Supervising teens can be tricky on its own. An increase in the number of participants having Asperger’s Syndrome or other learning challenges provided additional challenges. Responses to these students’ behaviors could have potentially turned to a negative, but we were fortunate to have a positive outcome.

Lazy Teens or Concrete Thinkers?
When I first started working festivals, I was amazed at how some kids could easily “get it” when I point to a full trash can and say, “What needs to happen here?” And others would just stare at me. Initially, I thought they were just being lazy teens. Then I realized I needed to apply some learning techniques for students who are concrete thinkers, such as modeling or direct language.

Modeling Job Tasks
Many students were challenged by having a job where they had to be proactive in seeing what tasks needed to be done. One parent gave us useful tips on her child which helped us guide her more appropriately. However, most parents did not give us a heads up regarding their children’s learning styles; so we had to use our best judgment which wasn’t always great.  Once we understood that they truly wanted to be there, we started to put into action some simple accommodations for these teens. I remember explaining to our leader that some of the students really don’t “get it” unless we concretely explain or model a job. We had to further analyze some tasks and provide modeling for many basic jobs.

Solutions to Help Teens Succeed in a Work Environment

1. Break down the complete job into smaller tasks (see example)

Changing the Trash

– Look for a full trash can
– Get a new trash bag
– Remove the full bag of trash from can
– Reline the empty can
– Throw the full trash bag away in bin

Once the adults understood how to break down a job into basic tasks, we were also able to direct the “typical teens” to positively support their peers. We avoided using inferences for jobs and were more direct in our expectations.

2. Provide check-off lists for lengthier jobs (see example)

Bathroom Cleaning – Done by _______ at ______ time

– Wipe Down Counter
– Pick Up Trash on Floor
– Check Toilet Paper and Seat Liner Supply
– Remove Full Trash and Replace Liner
– Mop Floor

Using a written check-off list was a great way for all of the teens to understand what the term “check the bathrooms” meant. It didn’t mean open the bathroom door, peek in and then return saying, “looks good to me.” It meant following a list and signing responsibility for that shift’s bathroom check. Some teens required a peer partner the first couple of times. In our situation, a written list was fine, but a picture list might also be helpful.

3. Have staff and peers cheer accomplishments big and small

We rewarded and recognized a job well done. Hearing a positive comment from a peer goes a long way for teens. Not only does it promote enthusiasm for completing more tasks, it builds self esteem and encourages potential friendships.

4. Offer peer modeling and job shadowing for more detailed tasks

In this situation, if a student wanted to learn the job of hosting a musical group, they shadowed a typical peer on that job several times with the final run being a peer led job shadowing. If the teen did well, they could lead independently.

Everyone Wins!
Letting the students select what jobs they preferred produced conscientious and happy workers. Finding the right opportunities for the right teen enabled the staff and peers not to pigeonhole workers into solely custodial duties. Recently, one of our teens helped run the barbeque grill for hours. A second hosted several bands making sure the group had everything it needed to make their competition a success. And a third was ready to assist with any “gophering” including trash pick up, bathroom checks or selling concessions. All played an integral role in making the festival a success. Throughout the years, things didn’t always go smoothly, but our students have learned that helping promote a positive experience for their peers is more fulfilling in the long run for everyone. Staff, students and family members have all been impressed with the tremendous growth that these individuals have experienced in a short amount of time.