Teens and Tours

Marilyn Finberg, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA,  Facilitator

Ron Ash, North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh, NC

Molly Hoffman, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA

Kristen Keirsey, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA, recorder

Annis Kukulan, Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, CA

Maureen Richardson, Museum of Anthropology at UBC, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Judi Selden, Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH

Linda Snider, Yellowstone Art Museum, Billings, MT

Irene Stone, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA

Ann Thomas, Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO

Michele Tilley, Sheldon Art Museum, Lincoln, NE

Arleen West, San Antonio Museum of  Art, San Antonio, TX


I. Opening question: “What makes you nervous when you learn you have a group of teenagers”.

  • They don’t talk.
  • They have an attitude.
  • The body language of crossed arms and not talking can be daunting.
  • They are hard to engage and questions are not answered or with minimal responses.
  • Cell phones are more of a problem with this age group.
  • Boyfriends and girlfriends may express much more interest in each other than you or the museum.
  • It is hard to use “VTS” with this age group.


II. What are the problems teenagers present? Docents identified the following:

  • Self-consciousness restricts participation.
  • A leader takes over the group and seems to exclude others
  • The teacher or chaperone can present a problem.
  • Discipline issues can interfere with the tour.
  • Smart answers can interfere with discussion.
  • Teenagers are more likely to break rules like gum chewing.


III. Stratagems to deal with the teen group.

  • Divide the larger groups into small groups and give the smaller groups different assignments.
  • For example, hand out quotes and have them examine the works in a gallery for the object that best matches the quote.
  • The choices are explained and discussed in the larger group.
  • Find works displaying emotions such a loneliness and then discuss
  • Other ideas included using hands on artifacts to engage the group.
  • Emphasizing that there are no wrong answers can be reassuring.
  • Make the teens feel like every opinion counts.
  • The importance of knowing why a group was there and what the teacher wants to group to learn can help tremendously.
  • It is important that the docent does not fall into the parent role but relies on the chaperone for any discipline.
  • The group agreed that the more information we have from the teacher the more effective our tours can be.
  • Goal is to create a sense of wonder in the teens and make the teen want to return to the museum.
  • To get the teens involved relate the works to something the kids know and care about like music.
  • Teens growing up to today are technologically savvy so if technology can be used it may help.
  • Flippant answers to docent questions demand measured replies, perhaps even looking for agreement or disagreement with such comments.


V. Conclusions

  • Always try to find out why a group is at the museum and prepare well for the tour.
  • During the “meet and greet” set out your expectations involving cell phones, cameras, PDA but do it in a friendly manner.
  • Introducing technology like IPADS may help.
  • Small groups can increase engagement and make the tour more meaningful.
  • Have activities up your sleeve to use when you need to reenergize the group or increase involvement.
  • Find ways to make the objects relate to something teens care about.
  • If a single group member is breaking a “rule” try to address them individually.


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