What Would You Do? Handling Disruptive Teens

Let’s say you are about to give a message to a room full of middle school students as you usually do and as always they are a little rowdy.  Before you begin you give them a chance to calm down and focus; however, a 1/3 of the way into the message they start murmuring a bit.  You do your best to silence them by making eye contact, pausing to gain silence; however, they are still a little disruptive.  And what makes the situation even more challenging is one student who starts shouting out answers to rhetorical questions, laughing at inappropriate times and is trying to make lite of everything you say.  For some strange reason none of your volunteers are responsive, so it really comes down to you, “What do you do?”
If you were to tell me that your middle school students acted maturely every week, with no interruptions or incident I would call you a liar (but with love).  Let’s face it middle schoolers are a wild beast, it’s like herding cats and as much as I love them they can be overwhelming at times.  With that said they shouldn’t run your program.  To avoid situations like these we adopted a 3 step rule (that we learned from Kurt Johnston) for handling disruptive teens.

Step 1 – Give Warning
Sometimes all you have to do is tell a kid to be quiet and that’s what they’ll do.  But simply going shhhh isn’t going to work (and it’s so annoying).  What we need to do is give a student the heads up that they’re being disruptive.

Step 2 – Relocate
If they continue to be disruptive we try moving them around.  Often times they are conversing with a friend or being egged on by their peers.  A change of scenery (by an adult) usually works best.  If you just sit in the middle of the group you might cause more disruption.  In the end it’s best to just move one.

Step 3 – Remove
Then there are those times where we get a student who is totally disruptive.  So if you’ve already asked them to be quiet, if you’ve moved them to another part of the room; yet, they are still acting out, you need to take them out of the room.

No matter how many times you have to address a student it should follow up with a conversation after the program.  Always remember, praise a teenager in public, critique them privately.  If you find that you have to warn a student and relocate them it’s important to have a conversation with them afterward.  However, if you have to remove them from the room, it’s best to have a conversation with them and their parent.  That might mean asking them to take a break, giving them a stern warning, that’s up to you.  But, whatever your policy, stay true to it (although there are times for exceptions).  Lastly,  make sure you empower your ministers to take action, or else they may just sit back and wait for you to handle the situation.

That’s our policy, is it perfect?  No, but it works more times than not.  Yours may be different.
What’s your policy for disruptive teens?

But back to my story at the beginning.  Say you are giving a message, a teen is being disruptive and none of your ministers are handling the situation.  What do you do?

What would you do if a teen was being disruptive during your message?







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  • EJ Swanson says:

    Chris Great Post !!!
    3 tips I use
    #1 ask them the following ..
    Everyone look up here your not going to want to miss this !
    #2 Miander from time to time with middle schoolers large or small group I will exit the stage and go sit in a row plop down and lean back in a chair!
    #3 from time to time ill just stop litterly and just wait not as a your not listening but a a long comdiec pause let the room refocus ! one sales book a read a while back called it the hang up principle if your on a sales call and the caller takes over the call hang up and call back ! im not sure im totally cool with that but i always works its like your hang up you stop and regain the group!

    This is a great post and I look forward to other reponses!

  • E.J. thanks for your feedback, I like #3, the hang up principle, I’ve tried that myself and there are times where it works. I’m working on body movement and subtle hand gestures that will notify the volunteers that there’s a problem at the front of the room, but the challenge I have with that is not disturbing or embarrassing the student. Anyone have thoughts on that?

  • David Grant says:

    Caneing can be effective

  • yeah but where do you get a good one?

  • Jonathan Van Maanen says:

    I’ve found that bamboo canes are most effect – reedy with good spring back.

    I could swear you were talking about the group of middle-school students that I lead. Have you been spying on me?

    We implement those same rules and have chairs around the back of our room that we tell students about ahead of time so they know what we expect from them. If we do remove them, then we have that leader talk with them afterwards to that there is some reconciliation, clear expectations and helping the student take ownership of their actions.

    The hardest part is how to address leaders that know are sitting right around that student but don’t do anything…?

    Thanks for your post and insight!

  • Jonathan,
    Big brother is always watching…but in all seriousness, having those chairs is a great idea, because clear expectations give clear results. In regards to leaders not doing anything I feel much of the time it’s a fear of making a larger interruption. I think what we need to convey to them is a trust that if they are interrupting us (while we’re speaking) that it’s for a valid reason. I find it’s more frustrating when there is no action.