Four discipline dont's

Submitted by mfitch on February 13, 2009 - 05:18. ::


(Note: This was originally written to church youth workers, but applies to parenting as well)

When youth leaders complain they can't control their young people, I frequently ask, "Do they do what you ask them to do?" The answer is often, "Yeah, they do it--but I don't like the way they do it. It's their attitude, you see." When I pursue the issue, I find that many leaders think teens should not only be compliant, but also should be delighted over the opportunity to comply.
But teenagers are usually not happy about being corrected--that's a lesson we all learn eventually. One ministry I worked with had a rule that no smoking was allowed during our week at camp. One year, a counselor saw a kid lighting up during free time. Since this kid had never camped with us before, the counselor went to the young person, explained the rule, and asked the camper to put out the cigarette. The camper complied, but the counselor was upset the student didn't look thrilled at being told he wouldn't be allowed to smoke all week. Rather than getting bent out of shape, the counselor probably should have been appreciative that the camper complied with his wishes. Agreeing not to smoke for the week may have been very difficult for this kid--especially since he didn't share the counselor's opinion on the value of cigarette smoking (or lack of it).
Don't expect your students will like every single thing you ask them to do. Simply because you want a young person to stop a certain behavior does not mean she'll no longer have that desire. Don't hassle a kid who complies just because she doesn't seem happy about it. I'm not saying you should accept backtalk or nastiness, but don't declare war just because the kid has an expression on her face that says, "This is a dumb rule." Don't even try to convince her immediately that it is a good rule. You can explain your reasoning at a later time when the person is ready to talk.
If you've spent hours preparing a lesson, the last thing you want is a disruption in the group. It can be tempting to say something in response that might embarrass the troublemaker, and make him or her feel humiliated. But before you do so, consider the consequences.
Teenagers are incredibly self-conscious. Your remark may stop the troublemaking behavior, but the resulting embarrassment could cost you a group member. And that one embarrassed teenager will probably tell five or six friends what you did--and you may lose them, too. Most outbursts are designed to get your attention. You reward troublemakers when you stop everything to focus on them.
A pinch of constructive criticism is part of the recipe for any good youth group. Unfortunately, many youth leaders shovel the criticism out by the truckload--and that can do more harm than good.
Here are some helpful hints on using criticism constructively. First of all, critique the behavior, not the person. Criticizing someone lowers that person's self-esteem and feelings of self-worth. Separate the behavior from the person.
Remember that it takes eight positive comments to make up for a single negative one--and that includes those critical comments we intend to be constructive. Be sensitive to the individual. Share your insights with a young person at a time when he's not surrounded by his peers, when both of you are not rushed, and after you've taken time to gain his respect.
Maybe a young person has a problem with hygiene and you know other kids are avoiding him because of his body odor. This problem needs to be pointed out to the young person, but it must be done very gently--not with a condemning attitude, but with a spirit of love and support. If you are going to point out a problem or concern, make sure you also offer practical solutions; otherwise your criticism can merely destroy the person you want to help.
No matter what happens, never resort to name-calling. All teenagers have certain imperfections about which they are overly sensitive. The world takes notice of them to tease and ridicule. If a teenager is small, he's called "shorty," "squirt," "shrimp," or "runt." If he's tall and thin, he's "beanpole" or "stick." If he's overweight, it might be "fatso" or "blimp." If he's weak or uncoordinated, he might be "wimp" or "geek." Teenagers suffer deeply from such nicknames, even when they feign indifference.
In general it's best for adult leaders to avoid teasing their young people, even in jest. Insults cut deeper and last longer when they come from an adult youth leader. We can learn to communicate without sarcasm and ridicule. There is no place for biting comments in conversations between adult leaders and young people. Sarcasm evokes hatred and provokes counterattacks.
Criticism of personality and character gives a young person negative feelings about herself. A young person who is made to feel stupid accepts such evaluation as fact. She may give up intellectual pursuits to escape ridicule. Since competition means failure, her safety depends on not trying.
Have you ever gotten so frustrated--after trying every method imaginable to quiet your group--that you yelled out a threat so idiotic your kids knew you would never follow through on it? Something similar to, "If you kids don't shut up, I'll never allow you to go on another church activity as long as you live!" They may stop the noise for a second, until they realize you'd never do such a thing. Empty threats don't help at all. In fact, such false statements just let kids know they have you!
The freshmen who enter our youth group each September are often a bit intimidated because they are the youngest ones in the group. One skit we do each year breaks the ice and helps those young people get a glimpse of one aspect of our discipline methods. As the young people come into the room on a particular week, I start trying to quiet them down--but I don't try very hard. Eventually, I pretend I'm getting mad and finally yell out, "If you kids don't shut up, I'm going to rip your arms off!"
Well, it always gets deadly silent--except for one eleventh-grader in the front row who continues to talk loudly. I walk directly to that student (who's still talking) and repeat, "I told you--if you don't shut up, I'm
going to rip your arms off." At this point you could hear a pin drop in the room. Every eye is on me and this one young person (who is still the only one talking). I reach over and grab him by the arm...
What the new freshmen don't know is that I got together with this eleventh-grader before the meeting and fixed him up so he has a mannequin's arm up his sleeve. After I grab the arm, I yank it right out of his sleeve. The freshmen kids in the back are screaming, "He did it! He really did it!" The kids quickly realize we were kidding--and everybody has a good laugh. But then I explain that if we say we're going to do something in this youth group, they can bet we will follow through on it.
Les Christie has spent more than forty years in youth ministry, including more than twenty years in the same church. An energetic speaker, Les also chairs the youth ministry department at William Jessup University. He's the author of more than a dozen books and lives in California with his wife, Gretchen, where he no longer has to discipline his two grown sons, Brent and David.
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