You Stink: What to do when a Student Reeks at Youth Group

This post may seem mean, but its not meant to. We got a message from a Youth Pastor who wanted advice on dealing with a student with really bad B.O.

Here is what he had to say

[message_box title=”Letter from Joel” color=”blue”]Hey Ben, have a weird question for you. We have a student who reeks when he comes to youth group, to the point where there is a noticeable area around him where no one sits or stands. I try and talk to him, but I can’t be the only one reaching out to him,  and unfortunately, his smell really is bad enough to deter our students and other leaders from connecting with him. My issue is how to best approach him about it, I don’t know if its something I call his parents about to make him take showers before he comes to Youth Group, or if I talk to him about it personally. My feeling is that he may be using the stench as a literal shield from having to get close to anyone, that he already is aware of it and fine with it, so that kind of changes it from “Hey, you stink” to “Why do you stink.” Any help you could give would be great, thanks![/message_box]

 

So how would you handle this situation? What advice can you give this Youth Pastor?

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42 Comments

  1. I think the best advice is to develop some kind of connection with him. Continue to work on it until he trust you and you can talk to him about anything. At that point, figure out how to ask him about it. It is a tough situation. I will pray for you as you try to connect with him.
    • I agree, but sometimes, you can't wait for that. As leaders, we might need to address it sooner than later. Everything must be done in love though...
  2. I think the best advice is to develop some kind of connection with him. Continue to work on it until he trust you and you can talk to him about anything. At that point, figure out how to ask him about it. It is a tough situation. I will pray for you as you try to connect with him.
    • I agree, but sometimes, you can't wait for that. As leaders, we might need to address it sooner than later. Everything must be done in love though...
  3. When I was at Liberty I had to deal with this situation on 2 occasions. One kid smelled so bad that it made half of the hall smell and his roommates obviously complained. The fact is when you have people complaining to you because it's just that bad, a conversation has to be had. Speaking the truth in love in a situation like this is important because he needs to know that other people around him are being affected but at the same time he needs to know that you want whats best for him both physically (hygiene) and emotionally (in terms of building friendships and relationships). It could very well be a situation where you need to talk with his parents and see if there is a deeper reason. The first guy I talked to at Liberty had a serious scarring issue that led to him not wanting to shower. The truth needs to be spoken sooner rather than later but you have to assess 3 things: The Student, The Family, and The Problem you are facing.
    • Good Advice, Jason! There were many at LU that needed to have this discussion, I remember many times being in DeMoss and you could smell it across the building because of the halls. Speaking in Love is always priority #1 when having these sort of discussions.
    • I would require middle school boys to take a shower everyday when we were at events. When we returned to the room at night, I'd just say, "Ok...shower time. Who's first?" If someone didn't want to take a shower, I'd say, "Sorry...everyone showers. We had a long day." Never had an issue.
  4. When I was at Liberty I had to deal with this situation on 2 occasions. One kid smelled so bad that it made half of the hall smell and his roommates obviously complained. The fact is when you have people complaining to you because it's just that bad, a conversation has to be had. Speaking the truth in love in a situation like this is important because he needs to know that other people around him are being affected but at the same time he needs to know that you want whats best for him both physically (hygiene) and emotionally (in terms of building friendships and relationships). It could very well be a situation where you need to talk with his parents and see if there is a deeper reason. The first guy I talked to at Liberty had a serious scarring issue that led to him not wanting to shower. The truth needs to be spoken sooner rather than later but you have to assess 3 things: The Student, The Family, and The Problem you are facing.
    • Good Advice, Jason! There were many at LU that needed to have this discussion, I remember many times being in DeMoss and you could smell it across the building because of the halls. Speaking in Love is always priority #1 when having these sort of discussions.
    • I would require middle school boys to take a shower everyday when we were at events. When we returned to the room at night, I'd just say, "Ok...shower time. Who's first?" If someone didn't want to take a shower, I'd say, "Sorry...everyone showers. We had a long day." Never had an issue.
  5. I had this at my last church I was at. I had a student that really reeked and he rarely wore deodorant. I actually bought some spray deodorant and made it available for all the students. (Many walked to our church - some 2 or 3 miles to get there) After about two months, I went and talked to him about putting some on. I think the hardest time when it comes to the smell is if a student has no way to help the smell. One students parents smoked, lived in a terrible home that always smelled moldy. There really was nothing I could do about that.
  6. I had this at my last church I was at. I had a student that really reeked and he rarely wore deodorant. I actually bought some spray deodorant and made it available for all the students. (Many walked to our church - some 2 or 3 miles to get there) After about two months, I went and talked to him about putting some on. I think the hardest time when it comes to the smell is if a student has no way to help the smell. One students parents smoked, lived in a terrible home that always smelled moldy. There really was nothing I could do about that.
  7. Definitely a tough situation. I've been through it myself. I think being up front and direct about it is the best. You can always do a "Hey everyone, remember to put on deodorant before you come.... sometimes teens forget," which can help, but doesn't address the issue directly enough. Obviously it's uncomfortable for you and for the student, no doubt. But maybe approach it like "I have a ton of respect for you and I really enjoy you being here. Because I have so much respect for you I wanna tell you something you may not know, but sometimes when you're here I feel like you need to smell better. It's putting up barriers between you and others, and you have a LOT to add to the group and I wanna help you remove those barriers. I'm not tryin to criticize, just tryin to help. I think you are a neat guy and I love you being here." Then be SUPER intentional the next time he comes to jump over and "Hey! How are you? How was your week" or send him a message on FB. I have found in most all tough/uncomfortable situations with youth that when I am straight forward and direct it helps more than hurts and actually grows the respect level between you FAR faster and usually the student comes away feeling more loved and cared for.
  8. Definitely a tough situation. I've been through it myself. I think being up front and direct about it is the best. You can always do a "Hey everyone, remember to put on deodorant before you come.... sometimes teens forget," which can help, but doesn't address the issue directly enough. Obviously it's uncomfortable for you and for the student, no doubt. But maybe approach it like "I have a ton of respect for you and I really enjoy you being here. Because I have so much respect for you I wanna tell you something you may not know, but sometimes when you're here I feel like you need to smell better. It's putting up barriers between you and others, and you have a LOT to add to the group and I wanna help you remove those barriers. I'm not tryin to criticize, just tryin to help. I think you are a neat guy and I love you being here." Then be SUPER intentional the next time he comes to jump over and "Hey! How are you? How was your week" or send him a message on FB. I have found in most all tough/uncomfortable situations with youth that when I am straight forward and direct it helps more than hurts and actually grows the respect level between you FAR faster and usually the student comes away feeling more loved and cared for.
  9. Public Humiliation. Just kidding. It's easier with middle school students because you can just yell at them all as a group and tell them they stink. They think it's funny and they usually think you're cool enough to know how to be cool. When you get into High School age, it's usually a little tougher because they get so sensitive. Honesty is key, love is necessary, and respect is needed.
  10. Public Humiliation. Just kidding. It's easier with middle school students because you can just yell at them all as a group and tell them they stink. They think it's funny and they usually think you're cool enough to know how to be cool. When you get into High School age, it's usually a little tougher because they get so sensitive. Honesty is key, love is necessary, and respect is needed.
  11. I think talking to the parents even if it is a barrier he is trying to set up is always a good idea. Maybe they can shed more light on it, but at the very least, you can partner with them to solve it. Unless they get offended that their might be a problem with their student and leave the church, which Ive seen before.
  12. I think talking to the parents even if it is a barrier he is trying to set up is always a good idea. Maybe they can shed more light on it, but at the very least, you can partner with them to solve it. Unless they get offended that their might be a problem with their student and leave the church, which Ive seen before.
  13. This must be about me. Oh wait, I'm no longer a youth. I stunk the same when I was in the youth, but no one told me. Well, one day I smelled so bad that the senior pastor talked to me about it. Privately, gently with love. I wasn't embarrassed that much. Eventually I grew out of it. I suggest that you personally talk to him about it. But as I mentioned above, privately and gently with love.
  14. This must be about me. Oh wait, I'm no longer a youth. I stunk the same when I was in the youth, but no one told me. Well, one day I smelled so bad that the senior pastor talked to me about it. Privately, gently with love. I wasn't embarrassed that much. Eventually I grew out of it. I suggest that you personally talk to him about it. But as I mentioned above, privately and gently with love.
  15. I've been in this situation as well and it's not easy to handle this right. But I had the idea that it actually worked better when a woman said something...Could it be that this is one of those situations where a 'woman's touch' could make a difference because we're less threatening and more naturally caring and 'motherly'?
  16. I've been in this situation as well and it's not easy to handle this right. But I had the idea that it actually worked better when a woman said something...Could it be that this is one of those situations where a 'woman's touch' could make a difference because we're less threatening and more naturally caring and 'motherly'?
  17. This happened with one of my middle school boys. The girls in the room would point out the smell VERY loudly. When I found the culprit, I went to his mom (mothers are usually more likely to understand the stink that boys can make) and just kind of mentioned it to her. I remember feeling so nervous and humiliated, but she understood. She smells it at home, too. Load of my shoulders! I definitely encourage a woman-to-woman confrontation. Women understand the smell boys make and don't take personal offense ;)
  18. This happened with one of my middle school boys. The girls in the room would point out the smell VERY loudly. When I found the culprit, I went to his mom (mothers are usually more likely to understand the stink that boys can make) and just kind of mentioned it to her. I remember feeling so nervous and humiliated, but she understood. She smells it at home, too. Load of my shoulders! I definitely encourage a woman-to-woman confrontation. Women understand the smell boys make and don't take personal offense ;)
  19. How is there not one person going the other way with this discussion? What is more important: Having every youth smell good or acceptance without condition? Because unless a solid relationship has been established (and by solid I mean spending time outside of 'youth group times') telling someone they smell bad (no matter how you frame it) is offensive and could very well result in that student choosing not to come back. I understand the middle school solution, but as it's been pointed out that doesn't work for high school. High schoolers are already in dilemma with who they are and how they fit in and who will accept them. I guess I struggle with whether it is really the place of a youth group to educate on hygiene. I give these objections for two reasons. 1) I'm a young/new youth pastor 2) there's one student in my group who has just started coming because of an outreach and leader's are complaining about his smell. But my gut response (not the one I voiced) is we need to accept without condition and make the gospel primary. What if the students that smell bad simply don't have access to clothes washers? What if the issue is more to do with social and economic status? What message do we send by trying to change someone's exterior? Isn't this one of the major things we as youth pastors would try to teach against? I'm struggling with this so don't be personally offended, but I think this issue needs better thought.
  20. How is there not one person going the other way with this discussion? What is more important: Having every youth smell good or acceptance without condition? Because unless a solid relationship has been established (and by solid I mean spending time outside of 'youth group times') telling someone they smell bad (no matter how you frame it) is offensive and could very well result in that student choosing not to come back. I understand the middle school solution, but as it's been pointed out that doesn't work for high school. High schoolers are already in dilemma with who they are and how they fit in and who will accept them. I guess I struggle with whether it is really the place of a youth group to educate on hygiene. I give these objections for two reasons. 1) I'm a young/new youth pastor 2) there's one student in my group who has just started coming because of an outreach and leader's are complaining about his smell. But my gut response (not the one I voiced) is we need to accept without condition and make the gospel primary. What if the students that smell bad simply don't have access to clothes washers? What if the issue is more to do with social and economic status? What message do we send by trying to change someone's exterior? Isn't this one of the major things we as youth pastors would try to teach against? I'm struggling with this so don't be personally offended, but I think this issue needs better thought.

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