Avoid These 5 Mistakes When You Teach Teens

I interact with parents/teachers often when I attend church, conferences, and extracurricular activities. Everywhere, I see people complaining about how hard it is to teach teens and get interaction. 

Instead of throwing all the blame on us, I think we could all use some perspective. Maybe adults are not helping teens learn as much as they think they are. I think we’ve all lost sight of the ideal way to teach: by engagement. Many times, I know that teachers and parents have the right idea, which is to create that engagement and excitement, but then struggle to find ways to do that. 

Teens get bored, talk to their friends, be on their phones, sleep in class, you name it! But instead of grounding them or giving detention right away, maybe try giving them a real reason to be involved in the conversation first.

Avoid these 5 mistakes when you teach teens

My mom (Elayna Fernandez) has been teaching me all my life, and she is a master at helping others learn effectively! She started homeschooling me 8 years ago, and she’s been showing me how to become a successful presenter, too. I’m sharing 5 most common mistakes adults make when teaching teenagers. I’m also covering how you can change that!

1. Failing to use Storytelling

A key part of being engaging as a teacher is STORYTELLING. When you tell a story, you’re going beyond whatever is in the textbook, the curriculum, or anything that I could easily search on Google. 

To be engaging, educators need to make their stories relatable to us and relatable to what they are teaching. I’ll share an example! One of my religion teachers at church used an excellent story to make the lesson more interesting. He shared about a building in San Francisco that has an unstable foundation, which means that it will fall soon. He related this expensive penthouse to us, and how if our foundation in Christ is strong, we can prevent failing spiritually, like the building. 

Relating this story, a modern situation we could possibly see on the news, to our testimonies in Christ was a good way to get us involved, to have a conversation. And it did lead to a very eye-opening discussion between all the students!

Stories can come from the news, your everyday, friends, and more. Stories are what really helps you connect with teens when you make the effort.

2. Lacking excitement about the subject 

Something that definitely gets boring quickly is a teacher who’s not enthusiastic. When someone is speaking in a monotone voice or looks bored, it’s harder for me to pay attention. How can I be excited if even they aren’t? As content creators and teachers, it’s our #1 job to be jumping off the walls HYPED about what we’re doing. We can achieve this by using stories (teach as I mentioned above), using a happy voice, ect. When I speak to audiences, I make jokes and laugh with the audience to set a good tone. Your good attitude is contagious, and most teens will catch on.

3. Not making room for growth

Another issue we can make is not allowing students to grow, or participate. Many times, I get so annoyed at an out-of-home teacher because they ignore a raised hand or don’t allow any time for questions at all! 

As a teenager, I love to have a voice and share my opinion, and I know that’s true for everyone I spend my time with, too. You may be thinking, “if teens are so talkative, why don’t they answer my questions during class or discussions?”

The answer is that whenever we share our opinions, we like to be HEARD and validated. Sometimes when I share my input with extracurricular/religion teachers I get dismissed with a, “that’s nice” or “thanks for sharing,” and there is no follow-up to anything I said. I know that my mom is grateful for my opinion when she asks me to elaborate on what I comment. So when teens share, pay attention! Make your learning area a safe place for all topics and all people, and I know you’ll see results.

4. Being condescending 

OOF. I think being condescending may be one of the worst things adults do when teaching. Why? Because something we ALL hate (especially teens) is being treated like we aren’t smart enough. It’s so easy to do this unintentionally, and that’s why it’s such a problem. I’m not saying you should treat us like we know everything (because that would DEFINITELY be a mistake), but also let us do things on our own!

I experience this so much in classes out of my home, and it kills me slowly, because it’s killing YOUR engagement with teens. One of the ways this happens is when a teacher will give my class the answer right away, instead of letting us figure it out on our own. 

We often underestimate teens and how capable they are. Show teens that you believe they are intelligent, and they’ll live up to it!

5. Being passive-aggressive, or bullying!

Here’s the BIGGEST problem. I can’t count how many stories I’ve heard from my friends about how truly mean their school teachers can be. From calling students “brain-dead” to outright ignoring them, this is a really big obstacle in learning everywhere. 

This could be verbal abuse, neglect, anything! Something that happens frequently in classes I’ve attended (other than my classes with mom) is when teachers single out teens. 

Adults call on someone specifically, out of the blue. Some of my religion teachers have done this whenever our class has gotten out of hand. Educators may be trying to prompt a good response or get the audience to pay attention, but instead, everyone’s uncomfortable and uncooperative. Yikes!

It can be frustrating to teach teenagers that aren’t listening (and believe me, my mom can TESTIFY to that,) but being aggressive is NOT the way to get a positive reaction. The best way to get engagement is to be positive. My mom has always taught my sisters and I using love and kindness, and as a result, we are avid, happy learners! 

Carla Ritchie shared something very relevant:

“If students don’t find school engaging, empowering and interesting, then they are not interested in performing.”

As educators (whether they are parents or teachers) seek to make these changes, I know their engagement with teens will skyrocket!

I’d love to know your biggest takeaway from these 5 mistakes. What do you consider a teaching mistake? Share in the comments below!




  1. Rebecca Bryant on July 2, 2019 at 11:00 am

    These are all great points. As a mom of a teen who struggled in high school not just because of mental health but because his teachers were not engaging him these points are spot on. My kid came home more than once talking about how bored he was or how the teacher refuses to let him engage in a topic. Now that he is in college he is loving the interaction he gets with his professor and the way they challenge him to grow and dig deeper on subjects.

  2. Patty Moliterno on July 2, 2019 at 1:35 pm

    I love your 5 mistakes. You gave a lot of helpful information for people who are teaching teens. I remember my high school geometry teacher. He was a bully, and I was so afraid of him picking on me that I never asked a question the entire year.

    I have often said that I think a big mistake people make when teaching/interacting with teens is that they fail to remember what they felt when they were teens. High school was not my favorite time of my life. The zits, awkward conversations with boys, and feeling like I never measured up to what others expected of me left me insecure. When I deal with teens, whether my own or someone else’s, I try to remember those feelings and be an encouragement to them.

  3. Christine Goulbourne on July 2, 2019 at 5:00 pm

    I can relate to this post both as a former student who remembers all of these classic teaching faux pas, and a parent who now has to guide my children through it. Fantastically written with a powerful message to all educators on how to connect with their students. It’s not an easy task to be the student or the teacher, but posts like this one would help make the teaching and learning journey to be a more fulfilling and successful experience.

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