We have a problem with a group of “mean girls” in our youth group. Only they’re not mean to their peers – they’re mean to me. “We don’t play games,” one told me last week, her Powderpuff Football Champion T-Shirt mocking me as she rolled her eyes.
They refuse to participate in any game, skit, or large group discussion. During moments of silence or prayer, I can almost always count on one of them to start giggling, and despite seating Core Members right in the middle of their group, they keep up a constant stream of chatter during the teachings. Worst of all, they always manage to foil our small group splitting techniques and all five of them sneak their way into the same small group every week.
Two weeks ago, I found them in the same group again and asked two of the girls to get up and move to a different group. The ringleader, Angie*, crossed her arms over her chest and said, “No.”
“Excuse me?” I responded.
“No,” she replied. “You can’t make me.”
I lost it. I started yelling and threatened to call her parents and kick her out if she didn’t get her butt off that couch right this instant . . .
She sulked and pouted, but she moved. After the wave of frustration and anger had passed, I started to feel guilty. I knew it was within my rights to scold this girl – after all, she had been disrespectful. But I also knew it was not right to berate her in front of her peers, and I felt awful for not being able to maintain my patience and handle the situation calmly.
During the closing prayer that night, Angie started whispering and giggling to her friends again, and I felt my blood pressure rise. I tapped Angie on the shoulder and asked her to step outside. Arms folded and eyes defiant, she stood in the hallway, waiting for me to start yelling again.
I started to – I started to yell at her for giggling during the prayer, but as I watched her eyes flash in anger and listened to her excuse (“I wasn’t laughing, I was coughing”), I realized we weren’t going to get anywhere. So, I took a deep breath and tried something else.
“Angie, I owe you an apology,” I said. “I was very frustrated when you wouldn’t listen to me in small group earlier, but I didn’t handle it well. I should never have yelled at you like that, especially in front of your friends. It was disrespectful of me and I was wrong. I’m really sorry.”
I wish I could say that Angie’s walls crumbled down and we spent the next half hour talking about her life and her faith, but that’s not the case. We did talk a little bit, and I learned that Angie and her group of “mean girls” go to the same school, but none of them have a single class or lunch together this year. I learned that between sports, music practices, and jobs, our youth group is one of the only times they get to see each other.
I outlined to her my expectations for youth group and tried to explain how her giggling and talking with her friends is distracting to the other teens who are there – teens who do “get it” and want to be there. She shared with me that she and her friends feel singled out and like I’m always yelling at them. She also told me that she hasn’t been to church since 2nd grade and usually doesn’t understand or believe most of what we’re talking about. We both promised to try to do better.
When Angie took off to go socialize and get some snacks, I overheard one of her friends asking her if I had yelled at her again.
“No,” she responded. “It’s all good.”
Last week Angie came to youth group again. She and one of the other girls still giggled through the teaching, but when I looked at her, she stopped immediately. Toward the end of the night, we had the teens looking up Scripture passages in the Bibles and answering reflection questions about them. When I noticed Angie and her friends starting to talk to each other instead of answering the questions, I sent two Core over to ask if they needed any help. The Core members helped them find the passages in the Bible and helped talk them through the reflection questions – explaining what the girls didn’t understand.
I don’t know if my apology has changed the way Angie looks at me, but it has definitely changed the way I look at her. As far as I know, Angie hasn’t had a profound encounter with Jesus, and she still doesn’t believe or understand most of what we’re talking about, but I know that I don’t dread encountering her and her friends each week any more. I know that I’m hopeful that she might be open to learning something about herself and her faith throughout the rest of this year. Most importantly, I know that I am going to be much quicker to apologize to teens from now on. I seem to like them, and myself, a whole lot more afterward.
*Names have been changed.