I was talking, but they weren’t listening. From up front I could witness a laugh-fest in the back row, several students were obviously dozing, while others were just having a side conversation. My heart sank.
So I stopped, mid sentence and stood there in silence wondering if they would even notice. Truthfully, it took them a sec. before they caught onto the fact that words were no longer coming out of my mouth.
These moments of frustration cause me to want to respond in one of three ways:
Yep, I’ve done it. This is when I launch into a twenty minute tirade beginning with some version of , “Why do you even come here?” It’s followed by me telling them they don’t have to be a part of my group, no one is making them come and if they have a parent who is I will talk to them. It ends with me saying something like, “It is no fun for any of us when I start lecturing you. Could you just show some form of respect and pretend to pay attention?”
The trouble with this response of course is that I don’t really feel any better, and if I am not careful with my words students are agitated. They might feel guilty for a moment but then by the next week they are back to the same response.
The “Oh Well.”
This is when my shoulders slump and I give up. I get the attitude of, “Oh well, they don’t care about what’s going on here anyway so why bother.” I give up in my heart of hearts. We stop youth group and send everyone home early. I hate to admit it, I’ve done it.
The “I Should Just Quit”
Similar to the “Oh well,” this is one where we go home and give all of the reasons why tomorrow is the day we are leaving this group and ministry all together. During group we might muddle through, but once everyone has left for the evening we hit our head on the steering wheel of our car and burst into tears. We go home and tell our spouse, our cat and anyone who will listen about how, “Done,” we are. Do students ever listen? Does it even matter that we show up every week? We vent and then just allow a seed of discouragement to be planted in our heart. I may or may not have this response more often than I should. I can neither confirm or deny these allegations.
The trouble of course is that none of these responses are helpful because they put us in a “giving up,” posture. They just leave everyone involved feeling empty. Does it mean these responses will never happen again? No, they will. In our humanness we want to control the actions of teens who can be self-focused. In those moments we know we didn’t respond well, we need to apologize and readjust. Here are some healthier ways I have learned to respond:
Instead of a Lecture:
Breathe and Assess
What is really going on in the group? Are they bored? Are we having an “off” night? Could there be more than what meet’s the eye? Maybe we picked a topic they just aren’t genuinely interested in. Is this a pattern or an “off” night? Never be afraid to stop and get the attention of your students. However, if you are honest is it just one or two students not “all” of them? Do you need to take them aside? Do you need to clarify expectations of behavior with your group? Before you launch into the lecture take a deep breathe and take a quick assessment of the room.
Instead of, “Oh Well,”
Change the Plans:
Communication is not what we say, it’s what others hear. You could have the best talk in the universe but if no one is paying attention it is falling flat. Never be afraid to stop and just change the direction of an evening. I have said, “This isn’t working tonight, let’s talk about something else.” Perhaps you need to release to small groups early. Try readjusting and brainstorming for the evening. Are there topics they want to talk about that you are missing? There are lots of ways to deal here, the point is sometimes it’s alright to shift plans and stop beating the dead horse to be more dead.
Don’t Quit Until Tomorrow:
Some days are hard and discouraging. It’s alright to vent and scream into a pillow, just don’t get stuck there. Make sure you have people in your life that will help readjust your attitude back to Jesus. My husband just laughs at me now when I tell him, “This time I mean it.” Instead he reminds me of the truth of Christ and that I do this for Him, not the students.
We ALL have a bad night or two along the way. It happens and it’s normal. If you can’t “get over it,” then it might be time to ask the Lord if He is leading you in a new direction.
How do you deal on those nights students make you angry??