Watch Now: 5 Strategies for Innovatively Engaging Teenagers and Young Learners

Richard Branson once said, “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes.” The new generation, today, are constantly navigating between difficulties and opportunities. They are more aware than ever before which has led to the discovery of newer passions and well-informed decisions. Nevertheless, a push in the right direction is always a progressive help. That’s where TEENGAGE comes in, to assuage the process and open the minds of the teenagers to novel prospects.

Rinku Sharma and Shubha Sharma, co-founders of TEENGAGE (pronounced Teen Engage), established their organisation in 2017, a space dedicated to the intellectual development of tweens and teens. The duo curates and conducts workshops, events, programs and internships exclusively for children above 10 years of age. In a conversation with Suhani Lakhotia, the co-founders talk about the inspiration behind TEENGAGE, how they maintain loyal followership and various ways to understand and engage with the adults of tomorrow.

What is the story behind TEENGAGE? How did the idea of curating events and workshops germinate?
TEENGAGE logoIn 2017, we [Rinku and Shubha] were chatting over a cup of tea and were discussing that as parents of younger children, we enrol them in various activities till the age of nine. Middle schoolers, however, don’t have a plethora of options. That’s how we decided to curate events and workshops for teenagers. We were adamant on creating something unique. The whole idea behind TEENGAGE is to ignite a fire within a teen.

By age 11,12, kids today know what they are inclined towards. All they need is an extra push to validate whether their thinking is right or wrong. For instance, if a teen is interested in being an RJ and attends an RJ workshop, they either realise that this is what they are meant for or they aren’t. The workshop helps teenagers find their interest level for a particular vocation. That’s essentially how we came up with TEENGAGE, a community where teenagers tell us what they want and we curate and conduct it for them.

Instagram has largely been your point of contact with the public. Why did you choose this medium?
It’s simple. Instagram is the most common among youth. Majority of the teens today who have mobile phones and access to social media platforms are on Instagram. Facebook was the other option but that platform is for the previous generation. Instagram, today, is developing by the day and it also gives a personal touch while communicating your ideas. It lets you build your story. Facebook is more of a platform where everybody is around and scrolling but not really engaging. It missed out on the personal touch. Naturally, Instagram was a clear choice. However, we do not propagate the use of social media for younger teens. It’s more for communication for teen parents.

What is your process of curating workshops, events, programs and internships and bringing them to the larger public?
Since the inception of our company, TEENGAGE has developed a network of industry experts and professionals who conduct our workshops. We refer to them as coaches. For every topic, we have coaches carefully chosen, while keeping the subject in mind. For example, for a public speaking workshop, we have a Star Sports TV Presenter, for a writing workshop, it will be an author who has recently published a book. We simply approach the coaches and explain the idea behind TEENGAGE, of how they will be working with a different kind of audience. Teenagers are termed as little adults with a mixture of maturity and innocence. So, the coaches immediately jump at the thought of providing a new perspective to future game-changers.

Engaging in activities and workshops has become very important for the young generation, especially in the era that we live today. Please comment.

Teengage Activity Movie Screening

Unique events like open air  movie screening @Teen Talkies

With the changing times, one thing that is sure is that possessing one skill is not enough. You need a set of skills along with education to back you in the world out there. Some skills you are born with that need sharpening over time, and some skills are acquired during your lifetime. Most of the acquired skills can be learnt through workshops. And that is the aim.

We want the teenagers to understand and question the tips and tricks learnt from these workshops. Questions such as, do I have the skills? If I’m enjoying the workshop, what are the advanced skills that I need to acquire? Do I need a diploma in it? Do I need a degree in it? So, our workshop acts as a stepping stone to the bigger picture which is their career choices.

Plus, teens are already overexposed today. Things that our generation learnt at the age of 15-16, are already known to a 10-year-old. Hence, along with imparting the right knowledge, it is imperative to make the content engaging. If the teen is not interested in the content, they will not spend time on it, especially now when they have their plates full. We also tell the parents that pushing their child into doing an activity will not work. Teens themselves need to be attracted to the topic. It not only makes them completely invested in the workshop but also makes the learning and grasping easier and quicker.

Visibility and marketing are as crucial as creating and curating events. How do you market your workshops to gain more traction?
We have categorised teenagers in three different sub-groups. First, 10-14 years old, where the parents are actively involved with decision making. Second, 15-16 years old, who are in 10th or 11th grade. Finally, 17-19, who are more or less on their own.

For the older teens, 15-19-year olds, we have an influencer model. When we talk about influencers here, we don’t mean the celebrity handles with a fan-following on Instagram, we are talking about the local neighbourhood teenagers. These are the teens who actively engage on Instagram and get traction within minutes of uploading content. We target these local influencers to get shoutouts for events like open mics, where the older teens are more involved.

We opt for a different approach when it comes to younger teens. We approach their parents, paid and online promotions, schools and other educational channels. We also have brand connections who give a shoutout and tag our coaches whenever we conduct a workshop. Instagram’s co-tagging feature plays a big part in visibility.

Interaction with followers is another avenue that is pivotal. What are the ways in which you engage with your niche audience and maintain loyal followership?
Initially, we found interacting with teenagers a tad bit difficult as there is a generation gap between them and us. However cool we tried to sound, it was just a reminder that we were trying to fit in. So, we took a different route. We made all our creatives very teen-centric. For example, for workshops that are based on boosting self-esteem, we would market them as ‘No Gyaan’ workshops to make sure teenagers understood that the workshop is not about giving them a lecture. It would be interactive and cater to understanding them. Our main motive behind TEENGAGE is to understand teenagers. We cannot do this by standing on their opposite side. We have to stand on the same side to fully comprehend their language, pulse and to be relatable to them.

There are multiple pages posting about events happening virtually all over India. How does TEENGAGE provide a unique approach to the public?

Expert Trainers Teengage

A network of professionals, mentors and coaches help teenagers navigate the questions about life career, and hobbies

We are in the technology era with everything available online. There are hundreds of websites offering free courses, workshops and much more. But what sets TEENGAGE apart is our network of industry experts and professionals. Our coaches are masters of their domain. They know their work inside out. They are not regular teachers but are the ones currently in the industry and because they are practitioners of their art, the coaches are able to share their first-hand experience with the teenagers.

Apart from that, we also have a very tedious selection process for our coaches. We know how important knowledge is but how to impart the knowledge is a different ballgame, altogether. For instance, if the biggest name in the literary world is not able to teach the teenagers in a structured manner which, at the same time, should also be convincing for the age group, then they would not be for us. That’s our biggest criteria while shortlisting coaches, to have knowledge but also have the right technique to impart the knowledge.

Can you name some hurdles you have faced along the journey?
The whole idea started out with the plan of establishing a café, TEENGAGE Café, where we would conduct workshops and events on a regular basis. While scouting places in Chembur, we faced a number of problems. Either the location was not appropriate or the rent was sky-high. Eventually, after 2-3 months we dropped the idea of a café and started looking for other options. There are a plethora of places in Mumbai which we could book based on a specific number of hours. That’s how we first collaborated with StoneMill Spaces. Now, we are not stuck in just one part of the city. It all worked out for the best.

Another big hurdle has been the on-going pandemic. Earlier, we were a company which conducted and curated offline workshops. But with the pandemic, everything came to a standstill. After a couple of months into the lockdown, we initiated live sessions with industry experts and past coaches. Slowly but eventually, we landed on the idea of moving TEENGAGE online. It has been 3-4 months since the commencement and the transition has been seamless. The virtual sessions are working even better than the in-person workshops. Now, we have teenagers joining us from Punjab, Bengaluru, Delhi, and many more places. Moving online has increased our reach as we are not confined to Mumbai anymore.

Whatever situation gets thrown at us, we learn, adapt and move accordingly. We make sure to turn it around in a way that’s positive. That’s the only way to move forward.

How has TEENGAGE impacted you personally?

Teengage co-founders

Co-founders Rinku Sharma and Shubha Sharma

It has been a great learning experience where we are constantly in touch with industry experts, talking to them and understanding their line of work. At the same time, we get to understand the psyche of teenagers as well. Personally, interacting with teenagers has made us connect with our children better. Dealing with this age group since the past three years has made us realise the importance of patience. Teenagers, themselves, are going through so many changes mentally and physically, and their curiosity is at an all-time high. They are trying to understand the world in a better manner even with their limited knowledge. Teenage years are when the children live with freedom and restriction and so a lot of emotions are displayed. So, treating them with patience is key on how to make them feel better. TEENGAGE has truly opened our minds.

What’s in store for TEENGAGE? How do you plan to take the brand to the next step?
The roadmap ahead is pretty much clear. We want to expand TEENGAGE to a global audience, to teenagers across the world. We want to add more courses, workshops and recruit as many industry experts as coaches as we can. We want to build a larger community on Instagram and Facebook. At the same time, we are not chasing followers but just trying to build a bigger organic audience for our social media handles. We also want to include more engaging creatives and activities for the teens.