In my work with youth ministry and as a middle school teacher, I am often disappointed in the decisions some of my students choose to make. This seems pretty natural, as we are all fallen people and prone to make mistakes, myself included. It is also natural because adolescents are at a time where they are testing boundaries more than ever. They need to learn for themselves what right and wrong is, even if it means doing the wrong thing every now and then.
I actually understand, and even support that to a degree. What I really struggle with is how to handle those moments when I am disappointed. Do I keep it to myself and just get over it? Do I just say "Oh, those darn teenagers" and roll with the punches? Maybe if it's just a small thing like forgetting their homework or showing up late.
But what about when it's bigger than that - when I can't just shrug it off? What if it's life-altering? Do I speak up? Do I let the students know I don't condone their decision? How do I do that without losing the relationship I have established with them? If I voice my disapproval, they might write me off forever. If it were just my relationship, then fine. However, they might write off all future teachers or youth workers. Do I risk that?
What if it's a decision that can't be taken back? Now they have to live with the consequences of that decision. Is it appropriate to tell them I'm disappointed in them? Do they still need to know? How do I do that without making them feel more guilty?
If I am not speaking up, then am I unintentionally saying that their decision is ok? If I don't stand up against wrong, am I saying that it's right? Is that something I'm ok with doing? Don't they need to know their mistake so they don't repeat it?
How do I handle those moments, the inevitable ones where my students let me down? I can't lower my standards. I can't compromise my sense of right and wrong. I can't condone their behavior. But what can I do?