Youth Ministry Resources: A disruptive teen in your youth group can pretty much ruin all your plans. When that happens once, you’ll have to accept it. But when there’s a teen who regularly disrupts your lessons or small group session, it’s time to take action.

Dealing with a disruptive teen

Despite all your preparations, all you efforts, one disruptive teen in your youth group or small group can pretty much ruin all your plans. When that happens once, you’ll have to accept it. After all, teens are unpredictable and that can cause some chaos every now and then. But when there’s a teen who regularly disrupts your lessons or small group session, it’s time to take action. Here’s how to deal with a disruptive teen:

Talk to God

It may seem like a complete cliché to state that you need to start with prayer, but it’s the one step we so easily forget. You have to pray for the teen before you do anything else. Ask God to fill your heart with love and understanding, to give you insight and wisdom so that you may handle the situation the right way. Keep praying during the whole process, that God may guide you through it all.

Talk informally

Make contact with the teen and take some time to talk about the disruptive behavior. In general, it’s wise to start with an informal talk, just take the teen aside after small group or youth group. Explain what the disruptive behavior is (be sure to describe it, teens often have a completely different definition of ‘disruptive’!) and the effect it has on you and on the group as a whole. Make sure the teens understands the consequences of his disruptive behavior. Ask him to stop and then describe what kind of behavior you would like to see. See if you can get the teen to agree on that. Keep this whole conversation friendly and make it as short as possible, five minutes or so. You may need to repeat this a couple of times, often the teen will behave a few weeks and then fall back into disruptive behavior. Keep positive, at least the teen is trying to behave!

Talk formally

If the behavior doesn’t improve after an informal talk, set up a more formal appointment. Let the teen come to your house or into your office, which usually helps to make it more ‘official’. While you have this conversation, keep in mind that there’s usually a reason for this type of behavior. If it had been ‘just teen stuff’, the teen would have quit or at least improved after the first talk. The fact that the behavior is still there, suggests there’s an underlying problem. Your job is to find out what that is.

The only way you can get to the bottom of this, is to gain the teen’s trust. That requires that you enter into this conversation with a loving, but firm attitude. The teen has to feel that you’re not there to scold him, or to force him to behave, but that you’re genuinely concerned for his well being because of the behavior he’s displaying. Make sure to communicate that, express your concern and worry.

Don’t despair if you don’t get a break through that first time. While teens that are either more open or that have less ‘serious’ problems may open up in the conversation and tell you what’s bothering them. Maybe they’re having problems at school, maybe someone just broke up with them or maybe they’re just being a teen. If they open up, you can help them find a better, more healthy way to deal with whatever is bothering them.

But when the underlying source of the disruptive behavior is a big issue, or if the teen is closed and distrusting in general, it may take some serious investing in the relationship to get to the bottom. You may need to spend time together before there’s enough trust for the teen to open up to you.

Talk to the parents

If the problem persists, or if it keeps coming back, you may need to involve the teen’s parents. This is a decision that you need to consider carefully, as you will need to balance what the teen needs versus what the parents have a right to know. If the underlying problem is in any way related to (suspected) abuse or a bad relationship with the parents, don’t inform them. Protect your teen in those cases. When in doubt, consult a senior pastor, a pastoral worker or even a professional social worker.

Keep in mind that informing the parents may break the trust between you and the teen. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t inform the parents, but it does mean you should weigh this in your consideration. If you decide to inform the parents, always tell the teen first to give him a chance to do it himself.