Jonathan's Answers to Tough Questions
On our summer trip, we pulled into the parking lot and right before we got out, a couple boys mooned the other van. We told the kids that was yuck and don't show your shinny hinny again. Gross! The kids know I mean business and even with just that short conversation, I am sure it will not happen again. One mom of a child that was disciplined for refusing to wear his seatbelt was upset that these kids were not punished as was her son for his action. I see the difference as we had told the parents ahead of time that we had no tolerance for noncompliance with the seatbelt rule and to me, that is a safety issue. The mooning thing- I am not sure how many trips over the years throughout the country this has not occurred! I feel confident that these boys won't do it again. The sponsors addressed the issue at the time and now one of the mothers of the mooning boys is upset we did not report this to her. So, that is the big issue, should we have come home and reported this to the parents? I say no, what is your opinion please?
Cathy from Shreveport, Louisiana
Thanks for the email.
Wow. Isn't it funny the messes we youth workers find ourselves in. It's never the easy black and white "this is wrong, thus sayeth the Lord, and therefore you shall reap 20 lashes."
Youth ministry is filled with choices like the one you faced, where you have to find the balance between compassion and discipline. You want God's grace and love to shine through you, but at the same time you want to be a good shepherd of the students you have, which often means dealing with the sheep's mothers and fathers. (And I've had more of those with their wool in a bunch over decisions I've made!)
1. SEAT BELT RESPONSE
Your actions about the seat belt sound justified. If you make a clear rule- you better follow through with it- or your rules will never be followed. And yes, safety is always one of the ones I always go to bat for.
2. YOUR DISCIPLINE OF THE "MOONERS"
Your grace with the "mooners" seemed heartfelt. I like that in a leader. It's very easy, especially at the end of a trip when we're tired, to lash out harshly, forgetting to have the compassion that Christ showed us. But, unfortunately, your response was scrutinized by one of the other mommy sheep (I'm really going with this sheep analogy thing!) These are tough calls. But we have to trust that God might use instances like these to sharpen us for times to come, where maybe the consequences are more than ruffled wool.
If a youth leader has a student moon someone in front of the whole group- then the one thing this leader must consider is the Ramifications of NOT doing anything. Don't get me wrong- I might have done the same thing as you- hind sight is always 20/20. The point is, you have an audience of students who are weighing the consequences of their future choices by your response. You might have communicated that clearly by your words, but kids aren't stupid, they know the difference between getting away with something and not.
So how can you avoid this situation? Good question. One good rule of thumb when disciplining: ALWAYS BUY YOURSELF SOME TIME! You might have considered sending them both to "your office" (or a private place) where you'll "deal with them in a minute!" This gives you time to think about what you can do to them, and at the same time, every other students see's that it was unacceptable and you took immediate action. Also- you get to handle it in private, away from ALL scrutiny. (then if any critism comes . . . deny everything!!! Just kidding!)
3. MOTHERS OF THE "MOONERS"
And of course, this issue couldn't have ended there, it had to get one step more difficult. Now the mom of the "mooner" is upset that she wasn't notified.
Again, a hard situation. But here's where you have to go to your "Parent Handling 101" toolkit. Remember the basics. Listen clearly to their complaint initially. BUT, realize, that moment IS NOT the best time for you to work it out with the parent. Why? Because if there is any way you can delay this meeting it will do two things: A. It will give you time to consider your actions, contact help or advice if you need it. B. It will give them time to cool off and be able to, idealy, deal with you rationally.
So, tell them that their point is very valid, and you need to take it into consideration for the future. Ask them if there is a time they can get together to talk about it. "Or, is there a good time to call you about this so we have some time to talk about it." Most parents will opt for the phone call. Either way- you bought yourself some time.
If they think you're putting them off, then pray hard, listen to their objections and don't argue. If they demand a response, let them know that you would like to pray about it.
Wow . . . that's a lot of "if's' But, I bet you never guessed all this would happen when you simply told a couple of "mooners" to cut that out.
Keep up the good work. These times aren't easy, but they make you a better person.