If you haven't already, read the last couple of blog entries about a real life example of a behavior issue you might encounter at an urban youth ministry program.  This week, I will share with you an example of a more helpful response that you or a volunteer could make to Micah's behavior.

You:  What happened in there? 
Micah:  Nothing.
You:  It didn’t seem like nothing.  All I saw was that the potato chips were gone and you got very angry.  That’s becoming less and less like you to become angry over a little thing like chips.  What’s really going on?
Micah:  I’m hungry, okay!?  We don’t have any food in our house.  And he’s selfish – he took the last of what there was to eat!
You:  You know what, I’m sitting here and I know you’re mad, but I can’t help but be a little proud of you right now.  You didn’t hit that boy, even though you were mad and hungry.  You didn’t leave bible study; you came out on the front porch.  You are able to say to me what made you upset.  While I see there are some next steps of working on some of that anger that drives you…I can see already how you are growing in this area to deal more responsibly when someone tempts you to be upset.  Can you see how far you have come in the last year?
Micah:  No! (Still angry.)  I don’t want to think about last year, I’m thinking about chips!
You:  How about I look in the kitchen real quick for something else for you to snack on and we can figure out a plan to get you back in room – maybe, just maybe even apologizing to the new guy for losing your cool? 
Micah:  No way!  I’m not apologizing to him.
You:  I’m guessing that new kid didn’t know how hungry you really are or that you had no food in your house – even if he was being selfish by taking the last of the chips and we can talk to him about that, too.  I think you have the opportunity to be the leader here and teach him about acceptable behavior in our group.  What do you think?
Micah:  Maybe.  Okay. (Shrugs.)  Can you get me some pop, too?

Why would I consider this is a more positive response to Micah's behavior.  Let's ask some questions and discover why.

  • Are you lecturing or listening?  You are listening.  You knew Micah well enough that he still gets in fights, but that this incident seemed strange.  You were willing to take the time to listen to him and trust his point of view of what made him upset and lose his cool with the new kid.  Even though you know that getting angry over chips is silly, you are also aware that being hungry can drive us to have emotional reactions over seemingly small incidents like it did with Micah.  
  • Are you focusing on positive growth or what’s left to go?  Positive growth.  You are deeply impressed that Micah is making these changes in his life without the indwelling help of the Holy Spirit.  Your willingness to encourage Micah and see positive steps in the midst of his bad behavior brought down Micah’s wall of defensiveness and he became willing to work together with you to resolve the issue.  In the conversation you acknowledged both past and present steps of growth.
  • Therefore, what is the youth’s response?  Despite his misbehavior, Micah feels affirmed and supported.  He knows that he needs to apologize to the new student for losing his cool, but he also knows that he won’t have to figure it out by himself.  He sees himself in a more positive light, taking steps towards maturity.  Micah also knows that you will speak to the other boy about taking the last of the chips when there were still other boys who haven’t eaten yet.  This deepens his trust in you that you don’t play favorites – that you want the group to all work together on the “stuff” in their life.

What about you?  Have you ever taken this type of approach with urban youth?  I know when I have, it has always worked better to draw the studen closer in relationship with me and ultimately to Christ!  Share your story below...

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