Took a group of middle school students to Hershey Park.  During the day the students were free to roam the facility; however, had mandatory check-in times.  When one girl arrived late I asked her for a reason and all I got in return was attitude.  It was a little unexpected and at first I didn’t know how to respond.  I wanted to call her parents and send her home, but then I learned that there was more to the story.  In the end she apologized and the rest of the day was fine.

Has a teenager ever copped an attitude with you before?  It’s alarming and sometimes unexpected.  When caught off guard it’s easy to want to shoot back and go even lower.  Or, maybe you just don’t know how to overcome the disappointment and let it slide.  No matter what you feel, when a teenager shows you a little attitude you need to respond.  But, how do you respond without hurting, rejecting or blowing off the situation?  First, you:

Listen – No matter what they say let it sit out there.  Sometimes the teenager just needs a little bit of time to think about what they said.  If their response was in a moment of passion you are giving them an opportunity to hear their mistake.  You respond immediately and you might escalate the situation down the wrong path.

Respond With “I” Statements – When someone offends us the tendency is to immediately shoot blame.  Instead make your first response a description of how you are feeling like, “I’m a little hurt.” Or “I’m surprised by that.”  Not only are you being authentic, but also you are allowing the offender to know the immediate consequences of their actions.

Offer To Go Deeper – This doesn’t mean to pry and fix what’s going on in their life; however, an off colored comment can sometimes be a shout out for help.  All you need to do is simply ask them, “Is there something we need to talk about?”  If they trust you they’ll let you know the truth.  If they do want to talk about it, just listen and if they don’t assure them that you are available.

Follow Up With Discipline – If a student makes a rude comment towards you, another adult or their parent, be sure to address their action.  Dishonoring parents and being rude to your elders isn’t right.  What is that disciplinary action?  Well that depends on your situation.  It can be as simple as asking them to apologize to who they’ve offended, to removing a certain privilege or responsibility.  No matter what the disciplinary action is, deliver it in love.

When a teen cops an attitude it can be anything from a cry for help to unresolved conflict.  Don’t brush it off, overlook it or over react, if anything slow down the pace, listen and show them God’s love

How do you deal with a teenager’s attitude?

Chris Wesley is the Director of Student Ministry at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD. You can read great articles and thoughts about youth ministry on his blog Marathon Youth Ministry.

This week I’ve talked to a couple youth workers who had come down with the same symptoms of a serious disease that infects all of us from time to time: they stopped believing in their church. We’ve all been there (if you haven’t welcome to your first few months in youth ministry – I promise you it is just ahead). So what is your response?

Time for a change in attitude
Quite often when you stop believing in your church or leadership it is time for prayer, not departure. Seasons of discord and discontent are common in ministry – your first response to a frustration should be prayer and consideration to the fact you may just be out of line. Ask God to show you were you need to change, rather than quickly dismiss your inadequacies, arrogance or pride. A just a little heads up – usually you don’t see yourself very well and someone will have to help you with your attitude adjustment. It won’t feel very good.

Time for a change in your job description
Most frustrations can be addressed by a simple change in a job description. Did your youth ministry position recently morph into an associate pastor type of role? Does your job look WAY different than what was pitched to you when you were hired? If you’re feeling it right now, write up some adjustments to your description (or help yourself by writing an official job description if your church never gave you one) that is fulfilling of your responsibilities and calling.

Time for a change in your leader
It’s possible that the leadership you report to needs to change. It will be very difficult to truly discern this – they need to sense God’s Spirit leading them and hear the words of wisdom in their Christian community. Pray that God will open their eyes to poor leadership decisions and pray that you may have a role in helping shape the vision which you are about to abandon because you’re giving up hope.

Time for a change in where you serve
If it isn’t an attitude problem on your part. If your job cannot be edited and adjusted to be a better fit. If your leader is unwilling or unable to change, you might need to begin praying about what God has next for you. When you stop believing in a church or a leader I believe you are quite possibly in the early stages of transition. I put this option last for a reason – this is usually what I flirt with first when I’m losing the vision for the church. Fight through the other steps first, and if/when you get here, pray for clarity and wisdom.

To youth workers who are hurting … I’ve walked that road in the past, and still dabble in it now from time to time. Don’t stop believing … and when you do check your heart, your role, your leader and if God wants to make a change.