Conflict Resolution in Youth Groups
Conflict in and of itself is not really a good or a bad thing, the issue is how you deal with it. In fact, within the confines of a youth group, conflict can actually be constructive, rather than destructive, if dealt with in the right way.
That’s why kids who are taught to use strong interpersonal skills to identify conflict - and resolve it in a positive fashion early on - will no doubt go on to use these skills in later life. These skills involve identification of the problem, dialogue, cooperation and negotiation.
So try to look at conflict within your group – within reason, of course - as positive, not negative, and everyone can learn from it.
Identifying ProblemsWhen a problem arises, it’s important to identify what really is happening, in order to find a good solution.
- What exactly is the conflict or issue, and how did it occur? Was everyone aware of the ground rules from the very beginning, and which ones were broken?
- Who is involved? Are there specific individuals who started the problem, and do they have a history of instigating conflict?
- Are there any underlying causes or issues? Could there be a social, cultural, ethnic or other misunderstanding?
- What are the good options for conflict resolution and what are the bad ones?
- How will these options influence every single party involved?
- After considering everyone’s viewpoint, which option is the best one to take?
Act It OutOnce you have identified the conflict and its causes, it’s time to look at a solution. Solving conflict involves cooperation. And one method to get members of your youth group to learn how to cooperate better is to allow them to act out their feelings.
Get members to share a personal conflict or problem in their life by writing it out on scraps of paper, which is usually best done anonymously. Other kids will act out negative and positive ways of dealing with the conflict, prompting discussion. A good way to get everyone thinking…
Make a Game of ItAnother way to prevent problems becoming bigger and spiralling out of control is to nip them in the bud before they start. Making a game out of conflict is a tried-and-tested way for young people to learn new skills, and develop safe ways of interaction that don’t involve fisticuffs, name-calling or disrespect.
One way to do this is through a game called, funnily enough, Conflict Resolution. It is like a formalised debate, but instead of gaining points by defeating your opponent you gain points by adding value to their ideas and thoughts.
By playing this game, members of your youth group will learn to build upon each other’s ideas, and work together to find a solution. Follow these easy steps:
- Choose a facilitator. Pick someone who gets along well with people, and can encourage everyone to participate. It could be a youth group leader, or with older children it could be just another member of the group.
- Break up into two, three or even four teams, depending on the number of youth involved.
- Think of a topic. This could be youth jobs, minority rights, teacher behaviour – anything of interest to your group in particular, depending on their age, gender etc.
- Start the game! Let each team have a three-minute platform, then let the others build upon what they say. Points are scored for analysis, competency of questions, ability to see other viewpoints, shared solutions.
Nipping It In the BudIf the problem escalates or continues, you need to nip it in the bud before things spiral out of control. Don’t let a minor disagreement turn into a violent episode at worst, or simply one that ruins the atmosphere of the youth group for weeks to come. Conflict resolution, including dialogue, cooperation and negotiation, is important for the continued cohesiveness of the youth group.
It’s important to let your youth group members know that those who are violent or destructive may face suspension or permanent expulsion from the youth group. Such actions could include:
- Physical violence
- Consistent verbal abuse
- Sexual harassment
- Destruction of property
- Consistent bullying
- Outward discrimination based on race, gender, culture, social upbringing etc.
Hopefully suspension or expulsion will only be used as a last resort, as these are young people who could perhaps benefit from most from inclusion, not exclusion.
In the best-case scenario, resolving conflict in a youth group will involve negotiation, cooperation and dialogue, and help kids learn skills that will help them not only within the group, but also in various situations throughout their lives.