Every youth group has one. At least one. So does every class, at least a few in every teacher’s schedule. Parents know “that one kid” at their child’s school or in the neighborhood. Some of you reading this were that kid, but every single one of you knows exactly who came to mind.
You know him well. Or her, but everyone that came to my mind was a young middle school boy. And trust me, I have known many. He’s constantly on your radar because “everyone picks on him.” And depending on your viewing angle, it is absolutely true. He is a literal bully magnet. I hear exactly what they say to him. I watch the others shun and make fun of him.
The trouble is, his part in the problem often goes unseen by the teacher or youth leader. When you confront the ones saying or doing cruel things, they protest that what he said or did first was even worse. They may have called him stupid, but first he called them fat. Oy! What can you do?
From the last few times I’ve dealt with “that one kid” (several in youth group settings and one at a school that has had me sub a ton this winter), I have formulated what I think is an ideal word picture. Ready? He is like a little yappy dog, constantly running around biting ankles and then backing away before you can do anything. When you finally have enough of it and kick it away, the thing goes whimpering to its master.
Lest I sound harsh and uncompassionate, let me reaffirm that my heart goes out to every kid who has trouble fitting in. And honestly, sometimes I allow the anklebiting to get to me. I haven’t always responded the way I should. But here’s what I’ve learned through many blunders and much heartache.
- Both parties are to blame, and neither party is to blame. Jesus was asked whether the man or his parents sinned, that he was born blind. Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase shows Jesus cutting straight through the bunk. “”You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do.” (Luke 9:1-5ish) The point isn’t who is wrong or right. The point is, what opportunity do we have to walk everyone involved (and those observing) through the morass with truth and grace?
- That one kid needs your attention… as does every kid. They crave approval, both from their peers and from adults whose opinions they care about. It is a privilege for you to be trusted to help them each figure out better ways to interact.
- Be relentlessly fair. Don’t let them call the shots. Do not tolerate bullying nor bully-baiting.
- Model radical acceptance. Every pair of eyes is looking at how you handle the situation. They are at least as frustrated as you are, and they need help navigating really turbulent waters.
- Sometimes he just needs some space. Allow him to take a breather. If he needs to get away from the group, make it clear to the others in the group, as well as the kid himself, that he is not in trouble. Be sure to follow up and process for a moment or two before he goes home.
How do you deal with that one kid?