Friday, April 08, 2011

    What Would You Do? Addressing Bad Behavior in Youth Ministry

    I was contacted recently by a youth ministry colleague with a dilemma regarding discipline. I know many of us will be able to relate to the issues below:
     I have a youth group with the average attendance around 25.  Over the last couple of months I have been having problems with them showing respect to peers and leaders.  There always seems to be talking going on when the lesson is going on and just through out the night.  I find myself and the other leaders sitting patiently and waiting for them to settle down and give us their attention and this is after we speak in a loud voice for all to hear.  Who do I get a hold on this?  It disrupts our growing, learning, and with having to stop to gather their attention is taking up a lot of time.  I need some ideas on haw to handle this.
    So what are your thoughts?  How have you responded to situations like this in your own ministry or how would you respond to it if it happened at your church? 


    Update: Joel Mayward has written a very useful post on this topic and has some great thoughts on how to deal with discipline issues with youth.

    11 comments:

    Mary Beth said...

    I have no answers, but I would love to hear what others have to say. This is a problem in our youth group too.

    Mary Beth said...

    I have no answers, but I would love to hear what others have to say. I have this challenge in my youth group as well.

    Xtina said...

    I'm not an expert by any means, but when I had a youth group that size, I never did any upfront teaching, precisely because they couldn't or wouldn't keep focused.

    I had small group discussions instead, and they tended to get much more engaged in that. If talking was a problem during those discussions I started using a "talking Koosh" -- whoever had it was the only one who could talk.

    If nothing else worked, I hit a pot with a spoon until everyone was quiet. That worked well too :)

    jpez9 said...

    Guidelines from the beginning makes all the difference. Before the whole program i go over some guidelines we have for the program. One of them is "Have fun when it's time to have fun, and be serious when it's time to be serious."
    The second one that has really helped and students appreciate is "If an adults talking listen, and when you want to talk we will listen." I usually then explain that if i expect you to be respectful and listen to us, then we as adults also need to show you the same respect and be quiet when you're talking. Then ask, Does that seem fair to you guys?

    Finally when students do talk out in the middle of a lesson I usually just pause and respond based upon how i feel is most appropriate. Honestly it's different at times. Sometimes you can be funny and say, "Man i'm already boring you guys. Sry but if you could please listen for the next few minutes i'd really appreciate it or that would be awesome." Also go talk to the "ring leader". The one who usually has influence over everyone else and say to them... "Hey can you help me out with something tonight. Sometimes as you know people have a hard time listening so if people start talking can you help me out. I don't want to seem like a jerk in front of everyone cuz i care about you guys. So can you help me out?"

    Hope this helps!!!!

    Jenn said...

    I definitely know what this is like.

    First I make myself factor in what is going on - is it the week before spring break, the first youth group after exams, etc. On those sorts of nights, I know that there is a higher level of energy and chaos. That's youth ministry.

    Second, I do similar things to the above posters - small groups, rules relating to respect, etc.

    Third, when it gets out of control, we turn off (or down) the lights, have everyone close their eyes and do an exercise where I have them picture peaceful things, see God in those places, etc. and then bring them back to the room by seeing God in our midst. Works surprisingly well in the past.

    Since our spring break ends today, we'll see how chaotic youth group is tonight!

    Brenda! said...

    In any school classroom this would not be allowed to happen. So why does a church allow this? We may say we want to show grace but we are really teaching that disrespect and undisciplined group dynamics is okay. These are minors, protected by the law because the law understands that they are not fully responsible for their decisions. They need our guidance to train them on appropriate behaviors.

    A written code of behavior needs to be established. And parents need to be involved. Parents are the ones who are ultimately responsible for their teen anyway. You should never do youth ministry without their involvement in some way. I would even guess that if this group comes from outside of your church family, those parents would be embarrassed at their child's behavior and would work with you.

    A good book to read is The Essential 55 by Ron Clark.

    Danelle Layne said...

    I agree with some of the comments, not all them. My youth group has close to 60 kids ranging from 12-30 or never been married. The majority of the kids are 16-20. Maybe teaching some house rules would be a good place to start. No gum chewing, no food in the sanctuary... Teach respect for your elders, respect for others... Compromise is good in some areas, relevance is good in some areas.. but this is basic human courtesy. There is no chaos in the Kingdom of God.

    Elizabeth said...

    I came up with a little trick that works well most of the time.Around Halloween there are often balls available that look like eyeballs. I bought a bunch of them and keep them in a jar in my office which looks pretty funky...anyway we pass the eyeball around.Whoever is holding the eyeball is the only one allowed to speak as "All eyes are on you" This is also a great way to bring out more introverted kids.As we have a tradition of "popcorning" at meetings where we allow whoever has answered the question last to choose someone to pass the eyeball too. This is a great way to get beyond the same people always sharing and hearing from people who may never speak up otherwise.I think some actually like it because they are afraid to speak on their own but want to share...

    Elizabeth said...

    I came up with a little trick that works well most of the time.Around Halloween there are often balls available that look like eyeballs. I bought a bunch of them and keep them in a jar in my office which looks pretty funky...anyway we pass the eyeball around.Whoever is holding the eyeball is the only one allowed to speak as "All eyes are on you" This is also a great way to bring out more introverted kids.As we have a tradition of "popcorning" at meetings where we allow whoever has answered the question last to choose someone to pass the eyeball too. This is a great way to get beyond the same people always sharing and hearing from people who may never speak up otherwise.I think some actually like it because they are afraid to speak on their own but want to share...

    gray said...

    I've been in a situation like this before (and I suppose this kind of problem will never be rare). It's really frustrating when it comes to getting their attention to the one who's talking (or to me). Apparently I'm the "oldest" youth in the group (more like an older sister for them). I can say I can really have all their attention because they treat me as an adult, but when discussions are getting boring or a drag for them to listen, sometimes my frustrations go up into my head and I tend to be a little bit angry. Not a good behavior either. But that was before when I was a new youth leader. Now I'm learning to cope with them, with what interests them.

    One time in a small group discussion, I saw them talking with each other or talking about the people in their surroundings. They're not paying attention, so I told them the opposite of the golden rule: "Don't do to others what you do not want to do unto you." If they don't want others to do the same to them, they should learn to respect and listen to the person who's talking. That has gotten their attention.

    ryansibray said...

    What works best for me is that I stop and tell them that no one is making them be there and if they don't want to participate they can leave.
    This almost always works because they actually do want to be there, they are just kids and they loose focus.
    In the time I have been at my current ministry I have never had anyone leave. But I focus on the fact that they have a choice, either go with the flow or do something else somewhere else.