this year at our junior high pastors summit, we invited psychiatrist and adolescent brain specialist, todd clements, to join us. this is part 6 of a 6-part series of the notes from that time. this particular section is notes from our general discussion on what we can expect from middle school students, given what we’ve learned about early adolescent brain development. the notes are a bit cryptic at times, i admit. i’ve cleaned them up a bit from what was useful for those who attended, but it would take too long to fill in all the gaps — so i’m posting them somewhat as is, in hopes that they’ll still be stimulating to some.
GENERAL DISCUSSION OF EXPECTATIONS:
Questions this raises:
– Where do we make room for kids to make mistakes and process these mistakes with them? How do we deal with volunteers who can’t seem to allow mistakes without jumping all over a student? Yet, do this without excusing the behavior?
– Finding consequences that fit.
– Forward thinking and planning ahead
– Variation of where different kids are in their development and how this might change from week to week. This might be affected by life situations.
– Moral judgments – do we tend to make everything a moral issue?
– Impulse control
– Apparent Hypocrisy
Phil: What are your rules and how do you explain these rules for camp or other activities? What are the consequences for breaking these rules?
Sean: there’s a difference between bringing a CD player to camp and bringing pot.
April: our forms say “you could be sent home” as opposed to “you WILL be sent home”
Kurt: What do you send a kid home for?
Phil: we “say” girls and guys in wrong cabins you go home, but we may not be serious about this.
Johnny: you put the stuff in writing so you cover yourself and have the ability to send them home
Scott: do you really send them home? Where’s the grace and the conversation?
Nate R: we rarely send someone home. We reinforce the key things they are not supposed to do and give some grace the first part of camp. Turn it in the first night of camp, after that, you’re busted. We must be VERY CLEAR to kids and parents up front.
Kurt: do you have responsibility to tell that kid’s parent that they brought booze to camp?
Does the understanding of young teen brain development force us to rethink our policies? Do we give more grace to young teens because their prefrontal cortex is not developed?
Scott: We set up the kids for success when we tell them how they are expected to behave
Nate S: It’s also for our volunteers – they can be all over the map, we need to help get them on the same page?
April: We struggle with staff not knowing the limits on pranks etc…There is a bigger issue than stuff you can and cannot bring. For example, one guy’s cabin pooped in a box and put it on another guy’s cabin doorstep. This was not in the rules, but it was clearly out of bounds. We spent 30 minutes debriefing this experience instead of more important things.
Andy J: we do some of the stupidest things and allow kids/staff to get away with them. If we want to raise the level of professionalism in our ministries, this kind of stuff has to stop. Boy Scouts, schools, all sorts of others would be fired for doing half the crap we do with our groups. We must help parents feel safe with our ministries.
Scott: Is this that bad?
Alan R: parents extrapolate the small things into the big things that may or may not be happening. It definitely is that bad.
Judy: Stuff like this is what gets repeated when the kids get home and it does us damage.
Kurt: You can’t put all the stuff down on a rule sheet – it’s not about the rules themselves. It’s bigger than this. How are you creating an atmosphere that is safe without all the rules?
April: we want to agree to live by bigger principles, not nit-pick the details. Ask “is this going to invite a student in” as opposed to “what should we not do.”
Scott: invite students into the conversation about what are the rules for our group. It does not always work, but it’s a together experience
Jeff: we do that – we then can say “these were not our rules, these are what you came up with.” Then we can connect their ideas to God’s Word
Alan M: for us it’s respect – respect everyone and everything – an overarching principle
Jim: two case studies
1) Kids who were coming to the church and sitting on the roof and smoking pot. I asked them to think about if they want to be there. He asked them not to come to program for a month, but met with them once a week during that time.
2) Kid takes a leek on another kid’s bed: you can either leave now or miss three weeks when we get home. He stayed and I did not meet with him afterward. This kid has never been back.
April: I love that you gave him a choice
Christian: You also give them an opportunity to forward think. “I have felt the consequence; do I want to do this?” Love and Logic – this is the discipline model we use in our ministry. If my kid is getting unruly, I give them a choice – “you have not been acting like we expect you to act today, if this continues, we’ll need to remove you from this, think about that.” They have the choice of changing or taking the consequence. The key is a viable consequence that can be followed through with. You must follow through.
What part do things like role plays have in this formative stuff? This may be a bit cheesy, but seems to be a great way to help kids forward think in a safe way.
Scott: kids know the normal procedure “I do this, you tell me not to, I do it anyway, you do nothing.”
Andy: I need to protect the kids who are violated. Consequences are needed and should be implemented immediately and swiftly. I am going to protect the helpless. I was that kid in MS and I will NOT allow this to happen or be tolerated.
Kurt: Still feels case to case. I am more like this as well. Pooping in a box seems like a dumb prank. Pissing on a bed seems a lot worse.
Andy (passionately): I’m hearing way too much grace here. Kids in public schools are expelled for doing things like pissing on a bed and pooping in a box. We laugh at this and don’t do what needs to be done.
Nate R: Is there more to the story than someone pissing on a bed? What are the anger issues or the struggles of the kid doing this? Will we care for this kid too? We have to walk through this with both parties. What is the balance? We are different from the public school. How do we follow state guideline and still extend grace and love to the kids?
Alan M: In my experience at a previous church, a local Christian university would often time cover up the trouble students were in and not allow the local authorities get involved. This hurt the Christian testimony to the community. Do our actions hurt or help more than just the individual kids involved? We must think about our bigger reputation and the trust factor of parents not involved.
Jason: This has to be case by case. Is your ministry dealing with Christian kids or not? Do we extend more grace to those who are not followers of Jesus?
Jim: Love and Logic tells us to calm our own heart down, to empathies, to be calm and in control. It makes the conversation more about the kid breaking the rules, and to a choice that led to a bummer consequence.
Sean: how do we help the victim so they do not become the self-fulfilling prophecy? Do they start to think they are stupid because they are the victim of so many pranks?
Steve F: These types of situations tend to get us thinking their morals are bad, but it’s just they are young. We must remember it’s not always about bad morals. We want to teach, but not shame.
Sean: we are talking about dealing with things on a case by case basis. Is there a big picture set of steps we follow in these situations that will help us?
Kurt: We would all agree that pissing on the bed, but how we deal with that situation may be different on a case by case situation. We also need to think about context. For Christian, he may need to be stricter, but for most of us, this may not be needed.
Mark J: Sometimes the consequence that happens to the perpetrator can impact the rest of the group. They see that we’re serious.