Touring with Teens

Research in Brief

I have written previously about how combining museums and teenagers can be a daunting combination.  Typical teen behavior during museum visits can be viewed as resistant, at best.  However, two museum educators are challenging that common assumption.  In their experience, youth who begin tours in a defensive mood are often the ones most engaged, and those who appear “checked out” are often “profoundly impacted by their museum experience.”  These educators have learned to take resistant behaviors in stride because they know why the behaviors occur.  “Teens arriving fresh at the museum will often clump together and turn inwardly as an exercise in bonding, creating and sustaining individual safety within the networked group.”

While these educators haven’t quantified all the ways teens find value in museum experiences, they do offer many strategies for touring with teens.  Their techniques apply to most educational environments and help enhance teaching and learning.  Three of their tips follow:

  • Be different, take risks.  “Teens are used to teachers and parents telling them what to do – and they are infamous for resisting such authoritative approaches. . . It is okay (and refreshing) to say to a teen group, ‘let us have a conversation and discover this artwork together’ or ‘I don’t know everything about this work, but let’s look together and find out.’  Invite the teens to be co-contributors on the tour, a sort of choose-your-own adventure guided by the facilitator’s goals. 
  • Slow down.  “Truly seeing a work takes time.”
  • Create a safe space.  “Teens’ natural defense mechanism is to appear resistant:  arms crossed, stepped back, and eyes elsewhere.  But this does not mean they are not listening; in fact, teens are often quite engaged, in part to get a read on where they are and how safe they feel. Guides who use an inviting inquiry-based approach create a safe space for all to participate.  By asking open-ended questions that promote a wide range of responses, guides ensure they never lead the same tour twice; each experience and each group is unique.  Questions like, ‘If you could take one of these artworks on a date which one would you chose, where would you go, and what would you talk about?’ or a more traditional ‘What do you see when we look together at this artwork?’ will prompt a variety of answers.” 

To learn more about how these educators engaged teens, read the article,

Kusuma, K. & Wyrick, G.  (2014).  Real Teens, Real Tours:  Teen Engagement Strategies for the One-Time Visit.  Journal of Museum Education. 39.3, 276-283

Contact Information

Debra Lemieux

If Then Creativity



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