Dealing with drama at youth group

What suggestions do you have for this fellow youth worker?

Guy Hamilton contacted me with this question. What input can the rest of you give?

“I have just stepped into youth ministry and have encountered a serious “DRAMA” problem in the youth group. You know the whole gossip and “Your’e not my friend this week because you sat with so-and-so in worship last week” type of thing. Any help you can give is greatly appreciated.”

Oh man, the drama problems. Yeah, they’re all over. The worst is when it happens among your adult volunteers. The depravity of man is such a frustrating thing, but then I remember I’m no better than anyone else. Here are some tips that come to mind that might be helpful.

1. Saturate the ministry in prayer.
This should be happening anyway, but in case it isn’t, now is a good time to start. Service to the Lord always starts with prayer. The difference is amazing! I think we often underestimate prayer and think that our time is better spent actually working and “doing ministry.” Maybe because it looks better to tithers and feels more tangible for task-driven people.

2. Pick your battles.
Some drama is worth our intervention and some isn’t. If we get involved in every little event, we’ll soon become very frustrated and lessen our credibility when the big issues arise. Be willing to let the minor issues slide. Kids are capable of solving some problems on their own.

3. Be intentional about building relationships with the “drama queens.”
I’ve noticed that drama usually starts with a couple key people and spreads from there. Make sure that you or an adult leader is taking time to invest into each of those students individually on an on-going basis. Earn their trust and respect so when the drama issues are addressed there’s a relationship context already in place. They’ll be much more apt to listen to someone who has already proven that they care about them than someone just serving as a youth group authority figure.

4. Address the drama individually in love.
No matter how frustrated you may feel, be careful about standing in front of a group and condemning them all. Instead, within the context of the relationship that’s already built, sit down with each student and talk with them about it. “Hey Sarah, Jennifer looks pretty upset that she’s not your friend this week just because she sat with Holly last week. Why is it so important to you that she always sits with you?”

5. Use each drama issue as a teaching moment.
We all know that the best teaching moments are not the times we stand in front of a group and preach a mini sermon. The best teaching moments are the everyday real-life situations that we’re privileged to be a part of, including drama. If appropriate and both parties are willing, bring them together to apologize and use passages like Ephesians 4:29 and Romans 12:18, not in a preachy way, but as a reminder that this is how scripture applies to our life.

6. Be willing to go through the process many times.
Drama issues are not a once-in-lifetime experience. They’ll be ongoing, usually between the same little group of students. Be patient with them. God knows He’s more than extremely patient with us in all our shortcomings! Be willing to sit down and address the major drama issues in love as often as necessary. Challenge them to grow rather than expecting them to come to youth group as perfectly mature teenagers.

7. Make sure youth group remains a safe place.
In extreme cases when totally inappropriate situations arise that can be physically or emotionally harmful to other individuals, discipline is necessary. As much as it pains us to do so, a student may need to be dismissed from youth group for a while. Never sacrifice the whole group for the sake of keeping one or two students around. Dismissing students from youth group can be tricky, though. From my experience in having done this before, make sure you communicate first with the church leadership and parents, then your adult volunteers and lastly talk with student and explain the discipline. If certain kids are involved with the dismissed student, you may need to talk with them privately, too, and explain what’s going on, but don’t tell the whole youth group and make a spectacle out of the kid. In following Christ’s example with us, always discipline with the idea of restoration in mind. No kick should be permanent. Meet with that kid every week in place of youth group just to hang out, talk and pray together. Communicate love throughout the whole process.

8. Have realistic expectations.
Remember that teenagers are still growing and maturing. Don’t expect youth group to be a place void of drama or conflict. Instead, love them, guide them through the restoration process when necessary, use it as a teaching experience and encourage them to resolve some conflict on their own.

Posted on May 29, 2007

  • Great tips! I could have used a couple theses a few months ago. Where were you then?!?

  • I would ask what age group? A lot of times maturity is the thing that will bring about results as well. Also home life. Sometimes it’s underprivileged kids pitting each other against each other. Sometimes it’s the average kids. Sometimes it’s the rich bratty kids.

  • Tim

    @ Josh: I was here. Where were you? :P

    @ Chris: Yeah, there’s a lot of factors that play into this, you’re right. There’s no cookie-cutter solution. Maybe Guy Hamilton will respond and give more details.

  • yeah we have 80-90 middle school students every week. So much drama that it’s not even funny at all. A lot of it goes away when they mature…for the most part. And some kids can’t escape drama. It’s like they are a drama magnet. These are what I call “high maintenance” kids. I love them to death but they can really suck the life out of you if you’re not careful.

    I say find a leader they can relate to. Separate the drama kids as much as possible. Do outings with the kids that cause drama. Help them build a bond of friendship with each other and sometimes that helps the drama to go away as well. When they find they may have a common bond that may really help them learn to trust each other and value each other.

  • Tim

    Chris, sounds like you can probably speak more authoritatively on this matter than I can. So far I haven’t been in a youth group that has much drama among the students. I mean, it comes up but not on an ongoing continual basis with something new each week. Now, I have been in a youth ministry that seemed to always have drama among the adult volunteers, though. That was ridiculous.

  • yeah we have a lot of kids that come from broken homes. we have reported 5 families to health and human services in the past 2 months for neglect/ abuse. 3 sets of kids have been removed from their families and placed in foster care. a lot of our drama comes from these kids. you have “normal drama” which would be like light life issues. but then you also have “heavy drama” which would be like abusive parents, drug/ alcohol addictive parents, parents of multiple divorces, families where death happens often. All of these things produce drama in their kids especially when you have families that are victims of multiples. This only compounds the issues and the problems. I think most of the time a student acts out in drama becuase of the conflicts going on and really all they want is to known that they are loved and cared for. I was a drama kid when i was younger.

    sometimes drama is self-inflicted. sometimes it is not. it can come friend kids picking on each other. it can come from different social and economic backgrounds. drama is a denominator of life. we all suffer drama. it’s just that some drama is worse than others and sometimes it’s really nothing. I do think though that if we can [1] help these students form a bond with each other or [2] teach them to steer clear of the other students] for a season that not only will they be happier but also our ministry will be healthier for it.

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  • I have had much drama this year with my staff. I’m the new guy and the staff have been involved for a long time in the youth ministry.

    They would complain to the elders and then the elders went to me. This is unhealthy by the way.

    The best thing to do is attack problems immediately before others feel the wave of someone complaining. If it’s with love – you can do this with any of the people that help you.

    Usually it’s always a few influentials that stir the pot, so go to your people with much influence and make sure that you are clear with them.

  • I have two thoughts to add to the discussion. One, I think doing a relational series is a good thing. Our students are all about them. I did a series called I’m a Christian do I have to… One week the topic was “like everyone”. I used this as an opportunity to let everyone off the hook and accept the fact that they may not have affinity with every student that comes to our youth group. However, they are expected to love them. Respecting them, caring for them, not doing things to purposely hurt them etc. I’ve heard kids quote, I don’t like so and so right now but I love them.

    Second, teach Matthew 18 conflict resolution and enforce it in your group. Part of loving one another is not gossipping and hurting one another. Whenever a student approaches me to resolve a conflict, my first question is… did you talk to them about it? This is true for leaders as well.

    To echo the words of Tim, the relational pull is the most affected, but some times the leader must address the general group.

  • Tim

    I like those ideas, Matt. Thanks for sharing them! Did you have kids role-play any scenarios to practice conflict resolution? Bet that would be fun to watch! Good way to solidify it in their memory, too.

  • Jason

    I think that "Dealing with Drama" should be a course in any youth ministry track in college. Its frustrating and draining to deal with immense amounts of drama.

    There are some great suggestions on this post. I especially agree with "Pick your battles." This has been a great strategy in our youth ministry. By getting involved in every single battle we are actually empowering the "Drama Queens" to continue this behavior. The teens will solve their own problems in many cases.

  • Tim

    Jason, if you wanna create some sort of online "course" for how to deal with drama, I'd love to feature it here. :)

  • David

    What about when all the drama comes from the parents?!? The kids in my youth group are great to work with. The main reason some of them act the way they do is because that's what they see modeled at home.

  • JT

    What if they drama queen is an adult women???SMH

    • Then, after discussing it with your leadership, I’d politely ask her to step down and back out of the youth ministry. It’s never worth sacrificing the ministry for the sake of one person.

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