3 Strikes: Discipline in Youth Groups

16 October 2009 — 8 Comments

There have been a couple of posts in my feed reader recently about behaviour and discipline in youth groups. Firstly Chris Kidd gave his top 12 tips for behaviour management which was then picked up by Ben over at DOPCANDY. So I thought I’d share the strategy that we use for keeping discipline at a lively youth group of around 60 teenagers.

To keep things simple, we only have three rules and three progressive levels of discipline. The three rules are:

  1. Show respect to others:
Make sure there is no name-calling, swearing, fighting or bullying.

  3. Show respect to the building and equipment:

  4. Please help make sure everything is kept clean and tidy. Tell a leader if something is broken or damaged.

  5. Join in and have fun:
  6. Get involved in all we’re doing!

Generally people stick to these rules, but there are always moments when things can get a little silly or heated. That’s where Strikes come in! Leaders are able to award strikes to a young person who has clearly broken one of the above rules.

  • 1 Strike is considered a warning. It encourages the young person to stay out of any more trouble.
  • If another incident occurs during the same session, and they are given a second strike, they then have to sit out of whatever activity we are doing for 10 minutes. It is a basic time-out device to allow them to calm down. Often this may involve sitting and chatting with a leader about the issue.
  • If another problem then occurs during the same session (or if they don’t calm down from the previous issue) the third strike is given. This means that they have to leave the club (and parents are called if appropriate). It also means that they are banned for the next session (usualy the following week). When someone is banned, we contact them to invite them back after the ban has finished. It is very important that the ban has a definite and short time span so that it does not hang over the young person or make them feel excluded from the group.

We have used this system across a number of activities for a few years and it now works very effectively. In addition, we reiterate the rules each week either verbally or by a scrolling powerpoint on screen. Because the young people clearly understand the rules, they tend to go along with the consequences.

So that’s what we do. What about everyone else out there? Any top tips for keeping discipline in a group?

Image credit: crypto on Flickr


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I am a qualified youth worker, writer and consultant based in Littlehampton, UK. I've worked in the voluntary youth sector for over 12 years, am married to Kirsty and we have two daughters named Hope and Eloise. Check out 'Journeying Together: Growing Youth Work and Youth Workers in Local Communities' and read my opening chapter.

8 responses to 3 Strikes: Discipline in Youth Groups

  1. Hi Jon – we've always used the respect thing on courses with young people (and adults for that matter!). Generally we ask them to draw up their own 'rules', occasionally these need some discussion to revise but the most interesting aspect of doing this is asking them to consider 1. how will you renegotiate the rules if you want to change them later rather than just breaking them (as inevitably otherwise happens), and 2. how will you deal with it if the rules are broken?

    It's those two points that I think are discipline – the discipline to keep to the rules you've agreed on, but recognising they may need to change and agreeing on how to negotiate that.

  2. Good sound advice. I particularly appreciate that your rules are stated in the positive, rather than tell youth what NOT to do. Thanks for sharing. Brian

  3. Hi Mike, I take the point that people should be involved in designing their own rules and boundaries. It really helps them understand the rationale behind it and they tend to 'own' them better.

    In my situation though with an open youth club of around sixty, and many new people every week, it becomes difficult. I suppose this is where a smaller member's committee would be useful to devise the rules.

  4. Hi Brian, thanks for the comment. It's good to know you're still reading!

  5. Hi Jon!
    Excellent to mention that the buildings and equipment has to be respected by their users.
    We get the money that we need by donations from our community members. And they have a right that this money is used effectifely and the items purchased are used in a proper way.
    We cannot take it for granted that all this is made available to us.
    Living in a community of God´s creatures /human beings does not work without rules – that´s neccessary and God given and should be made clear to everyone, who joins community activities.

  6. Thanks for the link Jon. We actually do something similar, we talk about respect of … yourself, each other, leaders, property and equipment; and again do a similar 3 strike system which we're just reviewing again at the moment, when we've got our final version, I'll put it up on the blog.

  7. Hi Ralf, I think it is important to show respect to 'things' as well as people. If young people feel an ownership of the club and the equipment, they will look after it better.

  8. Hi Chris, it would be great to have your rules online when you've finalised them. It seems people are finding this discussion quite useful!

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