You’ve asked them to calm down. You’ve bribed them with candy. But for whatever reason, today is just not your day. Teenagers can be nutty, but sometimes we do things that make them even nuttier, usually without even thinking about it.
Here are just a few ways to make sure you lose the attention of your students. (Don’t do these things.)
Transition them directly from a high-energy activity into a quiet-learning setting. Yes, I know that Epic Mountain Dew Dodgeball of Doom is the greatest youth group game of all time. But a seventh grader can’t calm himself down in two minutes. If you encourage students to run around like sugar-fueled lunatics, that’s awesome, but please build in a cool-down activity before it’s time to get serious.
Place students in a highly distracting environment. I used to pass out notes pages so that students could better follow-along with the teaching. I realized later that all I was doing was supplying them with ammunition. Sometimes the best way to help students focus on what you have to say is to give them nothing else to focus on.
Load them up on mind-altering substances. This might sound harsh, but if you supply students with energy drinks, you deserve what’s coming next. The same goes for sugar and caffeine. There’s nothing wrong with having a cookie, but if you challenge a student to a soda-chugging contest, don’t be surprised if you struggle for his attention later.
Talk for longer than you need to. I don’t know who convinced us that it took thirty minutes to make a valid spiritual point. Kids can’t even watch cartoons for thirty minutes straight. That’s why they have commercials. Here’s a good rule of thumb. When you edit your talk, it should get shorter; not longer. Think of every memorable thing Jesus said. How many of them take twenty minutes to say?
Make sure students can’t hear you very well. You might think you’re “loud enough” without a microphone, but there’s a good chance you probably aren’t – at least not when the furnace kicks on. At this point you’ve got two options. Learn how to use a microphone or study basic operatic technique. (I’ve done both.)
Ignore problem behaviors and “hope” they’ll go away. There’s something here about giving an inch and taking a mile. If you ignore a whisper it becomes a conversation. If other students notice a distraction that you are not correcting, they’ll copy it. There’s a nice way to correct behaviors; usually just by pointing out to the student that you notice it.
A student’s attention is a hard thing to gain and an even harder thing to gain back. You’ve taken the time to create good and quality content. It’s important to build the rest of your program so that students can actually hear it.
This guest post was written by Aaron Helman. Aaron Helman is on a mission to end the epidemic of youth worker burnout. He writes Smarter Youth Ministry to help youth workers with their biggest frustrations – things like managing students’ behaviors. Check out his blog for more ways to help students hear your message.