Lessons Learned: Why Harsh Words Never Work
Of the many things I hear, grounding students from the youth group never seems to make any sense to me. I realize parents have to discipline their children, and one of those ways is to ground them. For some it's taking away the phone, TV or computer. But grounding them from the youth group confuses me.Now, I understand grounding them from a youth group event such as a bowling night. But from small group or the weekly large group meetings where they are being taught and discipled? I don't get it.
However, it was this very circumstance that taught me a valuable lesson in youth ministry.
In my early years of ministry, one of my students was grounded from certain activities. However, I noticed she used her cell phone everywhere she went. She also attended her homecoming dance and football game. And I happened to notice she was online chatting with her friends. The following Friday evening when she did not show up for youth group I was curious, as she was one of our most faithful attendees. The following Sunday I told her we all missed her and I asked her if everything was alright. "Oh," she said, "my parents grounded me from coming to youth group." I was immediately confused. I saw a contradiction with parents grounding their child from coming to church or youth group, but still allowing her other luxuries of life. But as you keep reading, I was about to learn my big lesson.My curiosity got the best of me. I made my way to her parents and asked them what was up. The father told me, "We received her report card and she got two C's. Her mother and I are not happy. So we have grounded her for the month so she can focus on her school work."
Here is where I opened up my mouth and inserted my foot.
I replied, "So, you've grounded her from youth group, yet I see her on the cell phone all the time as if she has it surgically attached to her ear. She ºs grounded from youth group but she's online chatting with her friends. And she was telling her friends all about homecoming this past weekend. I don't agree that she should be kept from youth group or church activities." Uh oh. While what I said made sense and seemed valid, it was the wrong approach, and I knew it. Her father responded, "Last I looked, Brian, you're not her parent. We decide what is right for our child." He was right. Lesson learned. He was her parent, not me. Did I have a point? Maybe. Does the grounding make sense to you? Me neither. Yet, I learned from that experience. I learned that before I voice what's on my heart, I need to step back, ask for God's guidance, and allow His words to speak through me. By doing so, I regroup and approach the situation from a different angle. God's angle. My words become His words. When I responded to the girl's father, I spoke harshly. God tells us to avoid harsh words:
"A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."--Proverbs 15:1
We are also told to control our tongue and not use careless words:
"Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing."--Proverbs 12:18
As youth workers, we may not understand why parents do what they do. But instead of getting frustrated (which happens), let's use these opportunities as teachable moments (both for us and for them), and as ways to build bridges of connectivity with the families we serve.