Survival Strategies for Touring Teens

Survival Strategies for Touring Teens
(9 do’s and a don’t)
Prepared by Catherine with advice from Denise, Fabrizio, Jeanne, and Suzanne
27 November 2006



1. Mentally prepare yourself for a lack of eye contact. Teens will generally not make eye contact with you, so don’t panic if you don’t see it. As you converse with them, let your eyes move around the group so no one feels singled out or stared at.

2. Prepare teens for what they will experience. Make sure you go over museum rules so teens know how to be successful visitors. Orient them to your general plan – that you will spend time concentrating on a few works you think will be interesting to them rather than describing each piece; that you will be asking them questions because you are really interested in their ideas, opinions, and questions.

3. Ask easy questions at the beginning just to get the conversation going. “What did you do before you came to MOCA?” establishes your interest in the teens’ experience. “When I say the word fashion, what comes into your mind?” gets teens thinking about how to connect their own experiences to the exhibition.

4. Ask follow-up questions in a non-threatening way. I watched Fabrizio smile and enthusiastically ask teens who giggled and called the Hussein Chalayan video crazy and trippy, “What’s crazy about it?” “What’s trippy about this video?” Fabrizio showed appreciation for their initial tentative comments and gently pushed
them to explain further.

5. Mentally prepare yourself for silence. If no one answers a question you have just asked, spend a few moments looking at the work of art you are discussing. This models careful looking, and takes the pressure off the teens who might feel put on the spot.

6. Remember you are not a teen. You do not have to know about high school students’ popular culture or current slang to earn teens’ trust or respect. In fact, most attempts by adults to use slang or refer to pop icons ring pretty hollow with teens. However, even though you’re an adult, you don’t have to be seen as a classroom teacher or a parent either. Instead, draw on your own personal strengths. Your status as an artist and/or representative of MOCA gives you a unique role with respect to teens – they may be looking at you as someone they might like to emulate. Let your enthusiasm, playfulness, and genuine interest in the teens come across.

7. Follow their interest. If teens show sudden interest in a work that is not in your plan, acknowledge their curiosity and interest by spending a bit of time there. Find out what drew their attention to the work of art and show enthusiasm for their observations.

8. Give them puzzles to solve. Teens like to be challenged to come up with solutions, not just answer questions that don’t seem to go anywhere. You can build higher-level questions into your tour (“What do architecture and fashion have in common?”), but cooperative learning can also be a great way to give students an idea to puzzle out. Fabrizio and Ismael, for example, asked Culver City High School students to investigate Skin + Bones using a worksheet. You can limit your cooperative learning exercise to one room, or to one question, but it can break the one-teacher-vs.-group-of-students dynamic of your tour into a bunch of mini discussions where even quiet teens get a chance to participate.

9. Praise their involvement. At some point during the tour and at the end, tell the teens you appreciate something about what they’ve done – been very careful not to touch the works of art, observing the exhibition carefully, giving thoughtful opinions. Teens need rewards and respect.


1. Lecture. No piece of information you can give is more important than the overall quality of the teens’ experience. Any sense that you are in lecture mode will result in an immediate turnoff. Their bodies will be there, but their hearts and minds will not.