What Do You Do if a Fight Breaks out in Youth Group?

I hope that most people never have to deal with this, but for people who work in urban, rural, or really any setting, this is a reality.  Handling a physical altercation requires that you can think quickly enough to deescalate the situation and keep everyone safe. Here’s what you do:

  1. Make sure everyone is safe.  This is the most important thing.  As soon as the punches start flying, whether at you or another, make sure everyone else exits the situation by going to another room or outside.  You want an adult leader to stay in the room with you while you try to verbally deescalate the person(s) involved so that you have a witness to the situation.  If the person is angry with you, remove yourself from the situation and have another adult try to calm the person down.
  2. If it is you who is assaulted, don’t hit back.  No really.  Make sure that when your adrenaline is flying, you do not act out of anger.  One, you could lose your job.  Two, you could get in trouble with the law.  Three, Jesus said a few things about turning the other cheek; if you teach your students to walk away from a fight, you had better do it too.
  3. In fact, it’s best you keep your hands off completely. There can be a lawsuit, or worse, something could go the wrong way.  I have been trained to restrain (I’ve worked in mental health facilities) and I know from my training that even the most calculated and seemingly safe touches can go wrong in these kinds of situations.  So just stick with a hands-off approach.  Usually when two teenagers fight, they fight the anger out for a few punches and stop on their own.  If they do not stop, call the police immediately.  I still recommend not putting yourself into the situation, but if you feel it is necessary, use your best discretion.
  4. When do you call the police?  This is a conversation you may want to have with your church staff.  What becomes a problem for the insurance company?  If two teens exchange a few punches, it may not seem like a big deal; however your church may have a policy on filing a police report regardless, so that the situation is on official and legal record.  And if a student assaults you, it might be hard to imagine filing an assault charge on them.  But it might be the most loving thing for you to finally show a student that their actions are going to really hurt them in the long run by pressing charges.
  5. Make sure that your leaders know how to handle a situation should a fight break out.  Provide training for your leaders in crisis intervention so that they can effectively deescalate a verbally or physically aggressive teenager.  There are many classes you can take to get certified in crisis intervention (plus it looks fantastic on your resume!)

Have you ever had to break out a fight?  What suggestions do you have to add to the conversation?

17 Comments

  1. I did deal with this once...not in an urban church either. I had to physically step between two high school males (both bigger than me) and hold them back from one another while I calmed the situation down. Not sure how a hands off approach would've worked here. Its nice in theory but sometimes you have to step in for the safety of those involved and others.
    • I understand and agree. Your approach will vary person-to-person. I'm glad you kept your peoples safe! I've definititely physically put myself between two people who are in a verbal-about-to-be-physical altercation while I've had the rest of my group cleared out. It's good to give them a distraction and get them back to the "real world" and remind them that consequences have actions. And like I just told Aaron in his comment--teenagers will USUALLY not hit a staff or authority.
  2. I did deal with this once...not in an urban church either. I had to physically step between two high school males (both bigger than me) and hold them back from one another while I calmed the situation down. Not sure how a hands off approach would've worked here. Its nice in theory but sometimes you have to step in for the safety of those involved and others.
    • I understand and agree. Your approach will vary person-to-person. I'm glad you kept your peoples safe! I've definititely physically put myself between two people who are in a verbal-about-to-be-physical altercation while I've had the rest of my group cleared out. It's good to give them a distraction and get them back to the "real world" and remind them that consequences have actions. And like I just told Aaron in his comment--teenagers will USUALLY not hit a staff or authority.
  3. Here's the line I use, although it's worth noting that I am bigger than almost all of my students. After I put on my angry voice, "You want to hit someone? Hit me." I haven't been hit (yet) and it's successfully defused every situation I've encountered so far.
    • Ha! From my experience working with teens who have ODD, even when they are most oppositional they usually will NOT hit authority. It's quite interesting having a teen get in my face and threaten my life, but when another does it they protect me. Teenagers are funny like that :) I'm glad you have something that works. If you ever DO get hit, you can join the I've Been Assualted By a Teenager Club (I-B-A-BAT).
  4. Here's the line I use, although it's worth noting that I am bigger than almost all of my students. After I put on my angry voice, "You want to hit someone? Hit me." I haven't been hit (yet) and it's successfully defused every situation I've encountered so far.
    • Ha! From my experience working with teens who have ODD, even when they are most oppositional they usually will NOT hit authority. It's quite interesting having a teen get in my face and threaten my life, but when another does it they protect me. Teenagers are funny like that :) I'm glad you have something that works. If you ever DO get hit, you can join the I've Been Assualted By a Teenager Club (I-B-A-BAT).
  5. We actually had this issue often in my last youth ministry. For some reason, our church was the place in town to go to fight! Students would attend and then fight afterwards, or before... and a few started it during. What they didn't know is that we had two volunteers who were secret bouncers. One was a former MP from the Marines. No teen knew this of course, but these guys' goal was to keep the peace before during and after youth group. And they could do it. That's my recommendation, assuming that we're all committed to developing volunteers, have one whose job is to step in so we can keep being the leader. Because even after intervention, there will need to be some immeditate counseling about the event, and perhaps a contacting of parents (since I'm assuming we're all committed to supporting families as well). TL
    • Thanks for your input, Terry. You pointed out something I forgot to talk about--the aftermath of the situation and the need for counseling. Blessings to your ministry and to your hardcore volunteers!
  6. We actually had this issue often in my last youth ministry. For some reason, our church was the place in town to go to fight! Students would attend and then fight afterwards, or before... and a few started it during. What they didn't know is that we had two volunteers who were secret bouncers. One was a former MP from the Marines. No teen knew this of course, but these guys' goal was to keep the peace before during and after youth group. And they could do it. That's my recommendation, assuming that we're all committed to developing volunteers, have one whose job is to step in so we can keep being the leader. Because even after intervention, there will need to be some immeditate counseling about the event, and perhaps a contacting of parents (since I'm assuming we're all committed to supporting families as well). TL
    • Thanks for your input, Terry. You pointed out something I forgot to talk about--the aftermath of the situation and the need for counseling. Blessings to your ministry and to your hardcore volunteers!

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