In light of the United Airlines debacle, I thought we should talk about how we should respond to the occasional obstinate teenager without losing our minds and reputations.
If you’re not aware of the United Airlines incident, it’s simple, United Airlines flight was full, they needed passengers to voluntarily leave. When no one volunteered United used force to remove a passenger and it was a bad scene. Hello? People? Cell Phones? Documenting everything?
There were, sadly, too many times where I confused action and force. Although I’ve never man-handled a kid, I’ve used force in different ways including yelling, arguing, and stand offs. None of the were great options.
Thankfully, through the years, I have learned some other options before choosing the “nuclear option” as way of getting your students to comply.
One of my first options is to make whatever I am asking a teen to do seem to be (or actually be) worth their while and in their best interest. Some might call this bribery but bribery is “I’ll give you this if you do that”. I see incentives as rewards for good behavior not bribery to do good behavior.
United Airlines tried to incentivize for people to give up their seats but to no avail. United has enough money, they could have given away much more and should have, to avoid the incident that took place. A youth workers budget is a bit more meager but that does not mean we can’t sweeten the pot a bit more.
I have to admit that there were times when my requests were either unreasonable or sounded unreasonable to the teenager I was talking to. United had to get people off the flight because they overbooked the flight.
There are times when teens have to do what I say because, if they don’t, more trouble will ensue; but there are times when its o.k. to compromise instead of choosing a hill to die on.
Wait It Out
I was always too quick the draw to address a behavior issue. I wanted control and my authority to be accepted. I remember one time at camp I yelled at kids who rage quit during one of the competitions. I screamed “You have no character.” #IAmALoser
Thankfully, we worked it out later which means I apologized, he accepted and we moved on, but I wish I had simply waited on him to calm down before I addressed the issue. My yelling at him only escalated the situation and I regret that.
Usually, the teen’s issue I am addressing is never the issue. If a student is being obstinate, there’s a reason for it and it’s not always the reason they tell me. So, what to do?
I Just listen. I listen for voice inflection, emotion, and content. Is the student more mad than sad? Or vice versa? Do I know the students background and is this issue to do with that? Taking
Listening to teens and discerning, in the moment, gives us some clues on how to address the blow up or the challenge that teen is presenting to you or the group. Me yelling gets me no where and further away from the reason this teen is having an issue.
Raise the Bar
I do this mostly with guys, but it’s effective. If I know the student well, I just tell them, “I expect more from you.”. Normally this get the guy thinking about his example in front of others. This tactic at least allows me an open to why the student is behaving the way they are.
If I do not know the student well, I tell them, “Hey man, super glad you’re here, but we have a high standard on this trip and that behavior is just not going to cut it.” I say this with an even tone and allow the student to respond anyway they like and then I respond from there looking of any connecting points.
Hopefully, this puts a few more tools in your conflict resolution toolbox.
What are your favorite tactics for de-escalting a problem?