I’ve decided that from now on, when I give a message, I’m now going to have a giant bowl of foam balls right next to my side. I’ve decided that every time I catch a student talking, texting or doing something that’s a distraction, I’m going to take one of these foam balls and chuck it at them. Just hard enough to get their attention but not too hard to get in trouble.
How’s that sound?
In all seriousness, when it comes to dealing with disruptive students we try to be as subtle as possible. We ask students to quiet themselves when they become too loud. We’ll move them around if they’re distracted and then give them a firm, yet, loving talking when the evening is wrapping up. Most times this works. However, there are those other times when we just want to pull our hair out. Chances are if you’re a middle school youth minister you’ve got a few disruptive students. :)
Now, don’t get me wrong: I love middle school students because they’re animated, impressionable, and a little unpredictable. You mix this with raging hormones and rapid body changes and, well, good luck finding a captive audience. Unfortunately, disruptive behavior can go beyond the middle school years up into the last few in high school. Many times our ministries are reactive to these situations when we should be seeking to be proactive. While some students will be disruptive no matter what, there are a few areas we can approach to cut down on misbehavior. Those areas are:
Atmosphere And Environments
During my first two years in ministry, I had the middle school students sit in metal chairs. This was a bad idea, one because every time they moved the chairs (which was about every 10 seconds) it made noise, and secondly it wasn’t comfortable. For some ministries it works. However, not for ours. With adjustments in lighting, seating, and even temperature, we’ve found an environment that works. Even after we find environments that work, we do our best to tweak and adjust with each new group of students.
Gizmos And Gadgets
We used to embrace cell phone and iPod usage during program because of their capability for interaction and access to Bible apps. We’ve found that what was once a novelty is now turning into a crutch. While most of our older students have control, the younger ones are glued to it. What we’ve done is created strict guidelines. We’ll be tough at first, and as we see responsibility grow, we’ll look at alleviating the guidelines. I don’t think there’s a black and white decision over technology. It really depends on the dynamic and maturity of the group.
Cliques And Herds
You want students to form relationships. However, those relationships can expand into something unruly if not monitored. What might start off has playful banter can turn into groups of gossip and even bullying. It’s not always obvious; but in order to cut down on any of these forces we need to make sure adults are present to challenge cliques or strengthen them to grow in Christ. The best way to diffuse any groups from being disruptive is by making sure they are never isolated from the rest of the students. The more positive interaction (especially with adults) will prevent any repeats of Lord of the Flies.
Students are growing and changing rapidly. Therefore, we know to expect some disruption. What’s important is to remember that this doesn’t make them bad people. We all have our days when we act like jerks. It’s important to show them the same grace that we would want others to show us. That’s why it comes down to being proactive, instead of reactive in how we engage them.
How do you deal with disruptive students?