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Participants (Heeding the Call)

The content and processes of Heeding the Call is designed to meet the developmental needs of junior high youth or 12-15 year olds. Adolescence is a time of tremendous physical, psychological, and cognitive growth and development. Typically, adolescence marks the start of reflective thinking—an ability to think about thinking. Self-consciousness and awareness of others are heightened. Many youth develop a strong sense of justice, while at the same time beginning to notice injustice in the world around them. Though their ability to be compassionate is growing, peer pressure is also increasing in importance. This can lead to exclusion of those who "don't belong." You will want to constantly encourage the group to be inclusive.

Adolescents feel autonomous, but are still dependent on the network of others who care for them. Early adolescence sometimes marks a period of diminishing communication between youth and their caregivers. At the same time, adolescents are considering their identity: who they are and who they wish to become. The process of identity development is intimately tied to youths' families. Although family relationships define young children's identities, adolescents embark on the journey of navigating independent, relational identities. Tensions from change—both internal developmental changes and external changes, such as death, divorce, remarriage, and inclusion of new family members—often arise. While adolescents may rebel against or even rebuke families, they need and depend on them. Belonging to a wider shared community, such as a faith community, can support adolescents and their families. Workshop leaders and other supportive adults or mentors in the congregation can be of great value during these years.

Some characteristics of the young adolescent include:

  • Seeks support for self-esteem and body image as she/he transitions into an adult body
  • Engages in abstract and hypothetical thinking
  • Concentrates on self and other's perceptions of the self
  • Engages actively with peers and social relationships
  • Tries to reconcile the inner self with the outer self
  • Explores gender, racial, and ethnic identities through affiliations
  • Expresses criticisms of self and others
  • Seeks belonging and membership, and is concerned with social approval
  • Takes on others' perspectives and understands that sharing perspectives does not necessarily mean agreement
  • Expresses interest in religion that embodies values
  • Sustains faith development by engaging with a community that allows questioning
  • Seeks love, understanding, loyalty, and support.

As leaders, you can support the young/older adolescent by:

  • Promoting a positive body image and self-esteem
  • Affirming and supporting the adolescent's many physical, emotional, and cognitive changes
  • Modeling respect
  • Being flexible and responsive
  • Providing opportunities for complex thinking and the pondering of big questions
  • Respecting and take seriously the adolescent's self-consciousness
  • Recognizing that challenging authority provides an outlet for new cognitive skills
  • Maintaining clear expectations that enable adolescents to make independent decisions
  • Keeping some routines or rituals that provide continuity from childhood to adulthood
  • Being a sounding board for youth's exploration of ideas
  • Encouraging involvement in multiple settings
  • Actively supporting the adolescent's exploration of identity
  • Encouraging participation in a faith or religious community
  • Providing outlets for questioning faith, religion, and creed
  • Facilitating youth's work in the community
  • Celebrating both change and continuity.

Integrating All Participants

By adapting activities or using alternate activities, you can help ensure that every workshop is inclusive of participants with a range of physical and cognitive abilities and learning styles, food allergies, and other sensitivities or limitations. Below, you will find general guidance on adapting the activities, along with some resources for implementing inclusion.

As you plan workshops, be aware of activities that might pose difficulties for youth who are differently-abled. All spaces, indoor and outdoor, need to be accessible to anyone who might be in the group, including first-time visitors. Check the width of doorways and aisles, the height of tables, and the terrain of outdoor landscapes.

Find out about participants' medical conditions and their allergies, particularly to food, if you plan to serve snacks.

Each session mixes active and quiet, expressive and listening, and whole-group and individual activities, along with alternate activities that you can substitute for core activities if you feel they better suit a group. As you begin to recognize different learning styles among the participants, let this information guide your selection of activities for each session.

Some activity descriptions mention specific concerns or suggest adaptations under the heading Including All Participants. Feel free to devise your own adaptations to meet any special needs you perceive. As the leader, you will know best how to provide a fully inclusive learning experience for the group.

In the Teacher Development section of the UUA website, find descriptions of a helpful resource book, Sally Patton's Welcoming Children with Special Needs.

For more information contact web @

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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