How do you handle a student that dominates your time?
Students (but especially middle schoolers) are affirmed when they get quality time with you. It’s really about quality, not quantity. Though, this isn’t an excuse to not be consistent.
A friend of mine, a small group leader, approached me one day with an issue.
“What do I do about Tiffany? She got my number and has texted me over 40 times in the past 12 hours.”
Wow. That is more than a text bomb. That is a texting nuke.
What we were seeing is a case of a student, desperate for attention, trying to dominate and control a small group leader’s time. In those situations, the question becomes “How do I care for and minister to this student, but also create a healthy boundary?”
- Delay your response. In a situation like this, lead the student by making your boundaries clear. Whether you don’t respond past a certain hour or let them know you are in the middle of work or family time. It’s actually helpful for the student to know you have clear boundaries and won’t respond constantly. If you wait to respond, you will start to develop a boundary.
- Make a plan. The next step is continuing to establish a relationship with the student. This may take some work. Your response to their problem may need to be, “Hey, lets get coffee next week and we can talk about this.” That will communicate that you care, but also let them know you aren’t available to talk right this moment.
- Tell your youth pastor. Its always great to keep youth pastors in the loop. This will allow them to keep their eyes open for any other warning signs from this particular student. They may also have knowledge of this happening with another SGL. If this is the case, it may be time to set up a meeting with that student.
- Listen carefully. If a student is expressing thoughts or feelings of self harm, definitely get the youth pastor and/or parents involved immediately.This is your chance to “guard the heart” of the student in your group. Use discretion and listen carefully to determine when the situation needs to move past your. Hopefully your youth ministry has a process for situations like this. At that point, the student’s safety is the most important thing.
When we find ourselves in this situation, it can be very difficult to know what to do. The most important thing to do is let the student know that you care and you’re sticking with them. A lot of times, all a student needs is a little love and a confidence-boost. Remember that you can never over-affirm a middle schooler.