Teen Club is a socialization training program for teens, 13-17 years of age, with mild to moderate social and communication challenges to help build friendships, self-confidence, and independence in the community through the use of DIR® principles:
D = Developmental I = Individual Differences R = Relationship-Based
Follow the teens’ lead; build on their interests.
A key feature of our Teen Club program is that the teens themselves plan and evaluate their own community activities, with staff guidance. We meet one weeknight evening each week, where subgroups of 3-6 teens brainstorm, propose ideas, persuade, listen to each other, and make decisions as a group. Every Saturday morning they meet in the community to implement the activities they’ve planned, which may focus on community service, socialization training, or pre-vocational interests. Small groups of three pair up with various other groups so all the teens get a chance to work and have fun with each other. Sometimes just three teens go with one facilitator. Some activities are planned weeks in advance, and some (such as a car wash) may involve the whole Teen Club with up to 40 members.
Support the teens to take the initiative.
Facilitators do not do things for the teens they can do themselves. Rather than organizing the activities or telling the teens what to do, facilitators ask them, “Now what?” The teens gain the self-confidence that comes from assessing the situation, talking it over, making a group decision, and taking the initiative to interact with familiar and unfamiliar peers and adults. These skills transfer over to other community interactions and life skills, such as ordering and paying for a restaurant meal, or making phone calls to find out what hours an establishment is open.
I: Individual differences.
An important aspect of building group cohesion is making the effort to understand one another and how we perceive the world. We help the teens recognize that what is challenging for one person may be different from what is hard for another. We encourage the teens to understand each other’s individual differences and to make compensations, whether that means listening more closely, speaking more loudly or more softly, or encouraging a soft-spoken peer to make her views known. Teen Club establishes an environment for positive identity formation within the supportive group.
R: Relationships and affect.
In an atmosphere of acceptance and camaraderie, the teens have a powerful sense of “belonging,” which in many cases they may have had great difficulty finding in school or other community settings. These growing relationships between peers are the heart of Teen Club. Expressing affect in a way that can help meet the needs of the group is a task for both staff and the teens themselves. High affect keeps meetings lively and interesting, and it encourages active banter, conversation, and kidding around between the teens that is highly conducive to socialization. When a new member arrives they are greeted with high energy and positive affirmation. It’s up to the staff to set the tone for these spirited interactions.
D: Regulation (Milestone I)
To be able to participate, the teens must be able to regulate their emotional states well enough to be able to function in a complex social environment and be safe in the community with a 1:3 staff ratio. Some teens may have difficulty maintaining self-regulation as their excitement level increases. Usually feedback from the other teens, as well as empathic support from staff, can help a teen manage their strong feelings and overflow movements so they can continue to participate fully. Left, a teen shares a calm moment with a dog during a community service activity at a no-kill shelter. To do this she had to regulate her emotional arousal while processing the intense sights, sounds, smells, and interactive demands of functioning in a limited space with dozens of barking dogs .
D: Engagement (Milestone II): “Go for the gleam in the eye”
Shared pleasurable activities provide an important foundation for building trust and bonding relationships. In the photo at right, the teens are reading maps and negotiating to plan their day at the zoo, deciding together where they want to go. Other activities that help build cohesiveness and socialization skills include picnics, parties, hiking, Frisbee golf, and other sports tournaments.
D: Two-way communication and social problem solving (Milestones III-IV)
Teen Club is a place to practice the back-and-forth of social conversation, with non-judgmental peers who are developing similar skills. In planning activities, they negotiate and engage in social problem solving, presenting ideas, persuading, and considering each other’s viewpoints. Above, the teens discuss ideas for a long-term community service project. They brainstorm in a large group then break into smaller groups to negotiate and decide how to resolve their differences, taking part in groups of varying complexity .
D: Emotional ideas and logical thinking (Milestones V-VI)
In addition to reviewing previous activities and planning future events, weeknight meetings provide opportunities to discuss important topics and feelings, such as transitioning to a new school, dealing with teasing and bullying, or preparing for adult living. Some topics can be addressed through role plays, where small groups act out situations for the other teens, including trying out different responses and exploring possible outcomes of each. Other topics of discussion include self-advocacy and understanding our strengths and challenges.
D: Higher levels of abstract thinking (VII- IX)
Like most teenagers, Teen Club members are beginning to contemplate their transition to the adult world, developing their own values and sense of personal identity. These tasks require some new ways of thinking:
Multicausal thinking (VII)
Understanding other perspectives, considering multiple viewpoints, combining ideas, negotiating, and supporting other’s ideas is part of Teen Club.
Differentiated grey area thinking (VIII)
Not everything is black and white. For instance, when you role play the part of a bully, you may begin to feel the bully is very angry, but maybe he’s also feeling insecure. A puppy at the shelter may be happy sitting your lap, but may also be a bit sad.
Internalized standard of self over time (IX)
Teen Club members are beginning to contemplate their transition to the adult world, developing their own values and sense of personal identity. What kind of person am I? What’s truly important to me? How does this affect what I will do with my life? In Teen Club, we explore evolving values and interests and how they can suggest potential vocations or career paths. The teens plan pre-vocational activities based on their interests. For instance, a teen who is interested in forensic science helped plan a visit to meet the detectives at a local police station. Above, a teen completes her first practice job interview at a community-wide Teen Job Fair.
PCDA uses a multidisciplinary, developmental, family-centered approach in all services. With the exception of peer groups, our services actively involve parents or caregivers in every session.