Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Guest Blogger: Kellen Roggenbuck- "The Skinny on Disciplining in Jr. High Ministry"

Disciplining can be one of the toughest parts of Jr. High Ministry, but not disciplining is a great way to destroy any hope of educating your youth. Without the right balance of structure, trust, respect and fun, education with Jr. High youth is almost impossible. So, since we want to avoid the Catholic school nuns slapping knuckles with rulers and definitely want to avoid a youth group version of Lord of the Flies, here are a few tips to finding that sweet spot right in the middle.

Be Upfront. This is not a geographical suggestion, though I usually teach from up front so everyone can see. Be upfront with discipline issues. Address issues. Ignoring a behavioral issue is passively saying that it isn't an issue. When someone does something wrong, let them know they've done something wrong. Ignoring it, avoiding it, pretending you didn't see it...they are all ways you communicate to the offender that they can continue doing what they are doing without reprimand.

Separate, Don't Exclude. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to separate the offender from the situation that lead to the infraction. Those are some fancy words for “getting the kids away from the bad stuff,” because all kids are angels, right? Honestly, sometimes even your best youth will find themselves in situations that will test them. So, don't fret about asking someone to switch seats or to change teams. Think of it as you facilitating the success of that youth. What you don't want to do is have the youth sit out, go to time out, sit in the hall or leave. While that solution does separate the youth from their negative situation, it also excludes them from youth group. It is important to teach the youth that there is a better way to react in the game, lesson or activity they were misbehaving in, and they aren't going to learn that from the hallway or home. Is there a time when you may have to ask a teen to leave the room or go home? Yes, but that is the most extreme of cases. Don't let your anger or frustration cause you to overreact.

Patience, Patience, Patience. It's important to remember in this conversation that you are working with early teenagers. They are goofy. They are crazy. They make bizarre, horrible decisions sometimes for no reason. Be patient with them. They are still learning social cues, so they may still need reminding that talking while you talk is wrong. Gently do so. They are still learning about fair play, so they may need reminding that cheating is wrong, or that everyone gets a turn. Remind them gently. Some of them may still be acclimating to their growing and changing bodies. They may need reminding that they are bigger or stronger and to be careful. Remind them extra gently. It is easy to fly off the handle, to holler and yell, to belittle or poke fun, but all of those things hurt your ability to teach the youth you are working with. Because everything you do, everything they do, and everything they experience is teaching them about life and themselves, not just the lesson portion. You are teaching them about communication, about social graces, about manors, about fair play, about leadership and about being an adult Christian, all in addition to your lesson. Be patient and remember you were a crazy, goofy, bizarre, horrible decision-maker once, too.

Be Prepared To Follow Through. This one is one of the hardest lessons to learn as a disciplinarian, but it is one of the easiest ways to lose credibility and control of your group if done incorrectly. If you make a rule, you have to follow through. If you make a consequence, you have to follow through. If you don't, the rule or consequence isn't real and your authority is gone. This is hard, because for whatever cosmic reason, as soon as you make a rule with a strict or serious consequence, the one youth you never have issues with accidentally breaks it. It's tough, but you have to do what you say you will do. Follow through is important in every aspect of your ministry, and failing at it in one aspect will reflect on the others. So, take in consideration all of the different scenarios before setting a rule. Ask yourself if there are any situations in which this rule could be broken, if the consequence is equal to the infraction, and if you are willing to enforce this rule no matter what, with any of your youth. Based on those answers, craft the rule accordingly. This doesn't mean there can't be grace present in your youth group, but remember that God's grace came as forgiveness of our sins, not as validating them as not sins. Model that behavior if you believe the situation needs some grace from you. Acknowledge that the infraction was wrong, make sure everyone knows it was wrong, then address the consequence.

Don't Need Discipline. Yes, I did just suggest that. Let me explain – I don't really find times in which I have to discipline youth anymore. They listen when they are supposed to, they go where they are supposed to, they follow the rules and guidelines of the games we play like they are supposed to, they even laugh at all my jokes like they are supposed to. How did I get such a great group of youth? By establishing a culture of mutual respect. By using the tips listed above, over time they became more theoretical, because the culture shifted. It took about 2 years, but by being consistent, following through and respecting my youth, we are now at a place where the expectations of the group are set by the senior members of the group. Visitors are quickly corrected by those that brought them when they get close to breaking a rule. Incoming 6th graders are told the rules their first time, and then follow the example of the 8th grade class. If you can create a culture of respect, you will find that there is little discipline needed, which leaves more time for education and fun. So get going, and be patient. Creating a culture or changing a culture often takes years, and in the case of changing an existing culture, it gets harder before it gets easier. Be patient, pray, take a deep breath, and get going.
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Kellen Roggenbuck is the Director of Youth at Community UMC of Elm Grove, WI. He's an avid ukulele player, in spite of his large stature and people's insistence of calling it a "mini-guitar". Kellen enjoys writing blogs, devotionals, books and on the occasional bathroom stall.