Discipline is no fun, but especially no fun at camp; but sometimes it has to be done. I had a student one time who had signed up for our camp. I did not know the camper very well, but he seemed a bit young to go. I was right.
The first thing you want to make sure if is that the right kids are on this trip. As much as you want every kid to come, every kid might not be ready for sleep away camp. Trust me, I know.
He was too young for this trip. He would wander way from the group and was basically on his own schedule. Here is how I handled it.
First offense: A warning to call to his mom.
Second: A call to mom and let her talk to him.
Third: A second call to mom with the warning that if I had to call again he would have to go home.
Fourth: Called the mom and asked her to come pick up her son, six hours away.
It worked out fine. All the kids gathered around this kid and sent him off with prayer and well wishes. I don’t think he ever came back to youth group (for a different reason) but that moment of discipline, with love, was worth it.
Here is what I think this process communicated to the parent
1. I communicated that I loved her son and wanted him to stay
2. I wanted her to be a part of the solution. She knows her son better than I.
3. I wanted to build a track record with the parent about behavior. If I would have told her to come pick up her son on the first call I would have appeared that I did not care.
Here is a thought from veteran youth worker Greg Schmidt:
The first thing to remember is, you and the kids are representing Christ first, church second, and the rest after that don’t really count, J/K. I always like to set the bar high and see if they can exceed my expectations. In my 25+ years of student ministry I have seen a lot of teens at camp that have gone home and a whole lot that should’ve went home.
The one thing I always did was at the parent mtg. show the parents the guidelines and expectations and let them know if their perfect son or daughter happened to not follow them, THEY (the parents) would be either coming to get them or sending money for bus ticket home. With this I made sure I had the pastor and everyone else on the same page that way when something happens, and it usually did, they won’t be blindsided by an angry parent of a perfect teen.
Discipline is part of discipleship. Don’t shy away from it, even if they don’t thank you for it later.
The second best practice is before you ever get to camp and that is making sure all the standards are known by everyone, students, parents and your pastor. Listen to my last episode for more on this and if you sign up for the Youth Ministry Round Up Newsletter, you’ll receive a copy of my camp covenant I made for students and parents sign.
The third best practice for discipline at camp is assigning others to do discipline. Train others in conflict management or how to help a kid who is struggling to obey the rules. Assigning a girls pastor and a boys pastor will give you space to build more relationships. You still have to handle the big stuff, the stuff you, not your volunteers, are paid to do but they can hand the smaller issues for you.
The fourth best practice for discipline at camp is having a process for dealing with recurring issues. As I stated above, I dealt with my student in stages. The phone call to parents is a helpful tool, not just as a threat, but as way for you to connect with parents and connecting parents with their students in the discipleship process.
The fifth best practice for dealing with camp discipline is obeying your own standards. You cannot enforce the rules if there is a different set of rules for you and your staff. Everyone has to obey the standards otherwise the standards will have no power. If you have to “discipline” a staff member, do it privately but do it so that everyone knows the standards matter.
The last best practice for camp discipline is to be willing to send a kid home. Sending a student home is only an option after you have exhausted every alternative. Sending a student home is not to make your lie easier but to make camp more enjoyable for the campers who paid good money to be there. If you can, refund the camper their money for camp even if you an only do half of it, it’s a sign of good faith to the parents.
If you have to send a kid it should be a sad day. I had kids gather around the student I had to send home and pray for him. If you cannot do that, make sure you do it with campers afterwards so they know the standards are important but that people are more important.
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