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Book Review: Developing Teen Leadership

I was recently asked to review a book on teen leadership. The book is called Developing Teen Leadership: A Practical Guide for Youth Group Advisors, Teachers and Parents. It is written by Dan Appleman who has 20 years of experience working with youth.

While this book is not specifically written for scouting programs, many of the ideas expressed in it correlate directly with some of the methods used in scouting. I think some of the advice offered in the book can be very helpful to Scouters working with youth in Scouts BSA and Venturers.

The book is divided into five sections.

Part 1 – Guiding Principals.

This section includes 25 chapters, but don’t despair. Each “chapter” is really only one or two pages. Each chapter gives a very specific piece of advice for adults working with teens.

I have given the complete list of chapters in part 1 at the bottom of this page. I think some of them will resonate immediately with Scouters. For example, Chapter 1: Anything they can do, they should do parallels the familiar quote from Baden-Powell: “Never do anything a boy can do.” Similarly, Let them fail, Don’t be a back-seat driver, and Who owns the group? delve into ideas which have been presented to us in adult leader training.

The chapters in this part are straightforward. The language is easy to understand, unlike some books of this type which are full of jargon and seem to be aimed at psychologists  rather than the average parent. Most of the chapters in the first part end with a list of phrases you can practice to bring the idea into your program. In many cases I wouldn’t say things the way the author does, but the phrases do make you consider how you are dealing with your teens and if there is a better way of going about it.

So while this book is not specific to Scouting I would recommend that you read it just to think about some of the ideas presented about working with teens. I think they will come in particularly handy when dealing with the teenagers in our Venture crew.

I will review the other parts of the book in later posts. You can learn more about the book on Amazon. So, as promised, here is the complete list of topics covered in the first part of the book:

  1. Anything they can do, they should do
  2. Don’t try to get them to like you; earn their respect
  3. Thou shalt not lie
  4. Let them fail
  5. Limits
  6. Find ways to say yes
  7. Initiative and control
  8. Admit your hypocrisies
  9. Role modeling is everything
  10. Apologize for your mistakes
  11. Set high expectations, but not perfection
  12. You really don’t know best
  13. Wait – most problems solve themselves
  14. Be a back-seat driver
  15. Don’t take it personally
  16. Talking back is good
  17. Plant seeds
  18. Boundaries and rules
  19. Being there
  20. Consistency
  21. Who owns the group?
  22. Trust
  23. Remember the positive
  24. Turf and communication

Part 2: Techniques

This part of the book gets into the specifics. The chapters in this section tend to be only a few pages each, but they are straightforward and direct. Each addresses techniques you can use when you find yourself in a difficult situation. I will give a complete list of the chapters in this section at the bottom of the post.

For example, the first chapter in this section, Positive-Negative-Positive, addresses how to handle a confrontation. The author advises to start with a complement, address the problem, and then end with something positive.  Then he gives some examples and some practical advice.

I’d like to add, that while this book is aimed at adults who are working with teens, many of the techniques in this part would work well for interactions between youth also. So this would serve as a good reference for the Scoutmaster who is teaching leadership techniques to the SPL and ASPL in a Scouts BSA Troop or for the Crew Advisor who is doing the same for the Venturing crew officers.

So here are the ideas covered in part 2 of the book:

  • Positive-negative-positive
  • Sticks and stones
  • The power of indirection
  • Don’t be the boss
  • Listening
  • Ask permission to offer advice
  • Explore options, but leave the decision with them
  • Be explicit
  • Explain every decision
  • Don’t yell
  • Choose your battles
  • Mistakes and failure
  • Get help
  • Group problem solving
  • Principles of leadership

Part 3: Programs and Activities

This part of the book deals with programming. How does your unit decide what to do? It gets into brainstorming and planning. I especially like the chapter on types of programs, which mentions different ways to do activities, such as role play, games, seminars, etc. The author mentions that he teaches teens the advantages and disadvantages of these different methods at programming workshops. That helps the youth decide which method they want to use when they are tossing around ideas. So these would fit in well as part of a youth leadership planning conference with the the SPL and ASPL and other youth leaders in a Scouts BSA Troop or  the Venture crew officers in a Venture crew.

Here is the complete list of topics covered in the third part of the book:

  1. Creativity
  2. Types of programs
  3. Planning and logistics
  4. Energy levels

Part 4: Topics

The first chapter in this part of the book, Communication, is a very good primer on promoting effective communications skills in the youth. Much of the rest of this part deals with issues which most of us probably hope we won’t be getting deeply involved in, such as confidentiality, alcohol, troubled teens, etc..  (See the complete list at the bottom of this article.) But the honest truth is, that if you are working with teenagers you will probably come across at least of few of these issues.

It is better to be prepared beforehand than to just wait and then have to come up with a plan of action on the spur of the moment. So if nothing else, read this section of the book just for the sake of awareness. And it is important to know how your charted organization expects you to handle some of these tough situations. So if you are thinking about these issues and you are not sure about what your chartered organization expects of you, now is the time to ask.

The chapter on taking care of yourself is also worth noting. It is really easy to get caught up in the program, throw yourself into it, and then burn out. The suggestions in the chapter are good ones. A burned out adult advisor really doesn’t help your unit in the long run.

As an additional note, you should be aware that BSA has specific rules about youth driving. You can view them in the Transportation section of the Guide to Safe Scouting.

Here is the complete list of topics covered in the fourth part of the book:

  1. Communication skills
  2. Sex, drugs, and rock & roll
  3. Driving
  4. Bad kids and troubled teens
  5. Confidentiality
  6. Playing favorites
  7. Dealing with crisis
  8. Life skills
  9. Working as a team
  10. Taking care of yourself

Part 5: For Teachers and Parents

This final section of the book looks at how parents and teachers can apply the advice presented earlier in the book in their own unique roles to teens. It includes some caveats. For example, a teacher might be limited in how much control he can really allow teens to have in a classroom.  It also includes some encouragement for parents and teachers, such as a reminder that parents are always a teens greatest role model.

There is also an interesting “Driver’s Handout” in the appendix. As I mentioned before, BSA has specific rules about youth driving. (See the Transportation section of the Guide to Safe Scouting.) But driving is a hot topic with teens and something they really like to talk about. “Are you driving yet?” is a question I hear them asking each other. This appendix would make a good starting point for a seminar or discussion about driving.  I might hand this off to our Crew president and see if she wants to do anything with this topic.

Overall, I found this book very useful. While there are some things I might do a little differently, I found that reading the book made me think about how I interact with teens and consider what my real reasons are for doing this or that with them.


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