No one ever signs up to be a youth minister for the joy of being a disciplinarian. It is, however, one of those areas that come with the territory (like mopping, filing folders, copying papers, and the occasional bathroom plumbing issue, etc.) Individual behavior like anger, negative comments, hitting, personal boundary issues and bullying are just a few common issues you may face in your middle school youth group. These issues, if not dealt with, can draw other youth into participating in the same disruptive behavior. They can cause distraction in small groups and can eventually interfere with the behavior of the whole group.
But rather than see this as one more duty, view it as an opportunity for God’s Love and Grace to be shared. There are many positive opportunities we can find when dealing with behavior issues. It’s all about how you approach them!
For tips on how Core Members can address behavioral issues, check out the Edge Core Handbook (available at store.lifeteen.com). Here are a few tips for you as a youth minister to develop behavioral guidelines for your youth group:
- Have expectations. To deal with these issues, you should first come up with a consistent policy that everyone follows. For example, Core Members can be called upon to address situations as they occur, then if repeated can bring the issue to the youth minister. Think about ideas that will work best for your parish, and bring your Core Team onto the same page of expectations as you are. Whatever your plan may be, make sure it is consistent!
- Recognize a cause for behavior. The Greek philosopher Plato once said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Addressing the youth’s behaviors is not a chore. It’s an opportunity to build a relationship with the youth. These types of behavior are often ways for the youth to act out due to something going on personally. It may be effective for the group to have a youth sent away, but the fact remains that the exiled person is still dealing with those issues in their life. Take the time not only to address what they’re doing, but to have a conversation about their everyday life. Getting to the root of the problem is going to be more effective in making sure the issues don’t rise up again.
- Be clear about your expectations with parents. Parents are the primary catechists of their children. Home is where they learn everything, and the world is where they usually modify and live those lessons out. Every home will most likely have different behavior guidelines, but it is very important to be clear on what is appropriate behavior during Edge. Hopefully, the guidelines provided will allow Edge to be a place where lessons at home are being reinforced.
- Be clear about your expectations with the youth. Middle school youth can be overwhelming at times, but don’t let them intimidate you into shying away from the subject of appropriate behavior with them! Be clear on what is acceptable at Edge, and what has no place in this environment. This gives them something very consistent in their lives to follow, and can hopefully challenge them to change bad habits.
- Help them transition from children to teens. Middle school youth are learning about themselves each day. They are also changing and learning more about the world as well. So, remember to treat them as adults and not children when addressing their behaviors. Using “Time-Out” may not be an effective way of doing so. Help them understand the consequences of certain behaviors in adult life, like anger and bullying. Helping them see what problems can develop from current behavior issues can help teach them about the effects of what they do.
These few suggestions will help transform the “chore” of discipline into a relational ministry opportunity. May God continue to bless you and your ministry.