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Conflicts and rules

1. The internal conflict of youth

In which types of conflict do children and youths find themselves?
In which types of conflict do children and youths
find themselves?

In which types of conflict do children and youths find themselves?

  • The internal development of young people is heavily influenced by the environment. The parent's house (authoritarian or anti-authoritarian upbringing? a Christian upbringing? etc.) plays a large role. However, also the media (TV, video, computer, and newspapers), the school and free time (friends, clubs, pals) has a sub-conscious effect on the mental development.

  • Young people often live according to a “fancy” principle. There is lack of self discipline and "endurance". The lack of a sense of success leads to dissatisfaction and senselessness. At the end of the day youths are bored stiff with everything.

  • The thoughts and acts of all youths are demanded by the meritocracy. Values, norms (exam results, numerous essays etc, etc.) and convictions are passed onto children by their parents. Some of them cannot handle it, some are left to get on with it and are left alone, some rebel against it and therefore push themselves out.

  • The teachers, youth leaders and other persons in authority/parents have an effect on children and teenagers through their own behaviour. They are often role models and their behaviour is closely observed and copied.

  • The physical development of youths going through puberty, the first experiences with members of the opposite sex, the slow movement away from the parent's house bring problems for their social environment.

  • A young person's internal conflict, conflicts with friends or with beliefs lead to youths asking questions of themselves, about the meaning of life, about goals, about trust, care and love. Soul searching and supposed inferiority complexes are often attempted to be covered up with showing-off, coolness and acting just like everyone else. Do not stand out!

  • Young people search for people whom they can ask questions about their problems, about relationships with the same/opposite sex and about the real value of a friendship.

conflicts / Bild Nr. 20782583
conflicts | ©: VRD - Fotolia

If we put ourselves in the position of the young people, if we listen and watch, if we really care about the youths whom we are responsible for, then we can help them to take a small step on life's path and offer them our assistance – not force – but really help.

The youth leader must trust the youths with a few things.

  • Let the youths learn independence and take over responsibility. Admit your mistakes. The letting go of the parents (young people often say "I have the worst parents!" – Mark Twain once said: "Give the parents time."). A youth leader must also learn to deal with the fact that youths will leave the group. A group cannot last forever.

  • Be ready for questions but also recognise the early signs of hardships and problems (there are lots of young people who carry their inner questions around with them without receiving any answers).

This, however, can only take place in a trusting atmosphere. The trust grows due to the resistance of the leader, the characteristics of the leader (leading without pressure and demands), a free and easy manner, as well as the closeness of the relationship between group leader and group member. No trusting relationship can be built up without a counter relationship. However, the relationship cannot become too close (and certainly not physical); the youths must have space and freedom to make decisions.

2. A youth's conflict with rules

Not every conflict can be avoided by fixing rules. Maybe it sometimes the case that rules are the cause of a conflict. The rules, the regulations and the reasons for rules must therefore be well considered.

Group rules

Determined rules:

  • Laws and decrees
  • Association or internal rules
  • Conditions of sponsors

These rules are not up for discussion. There is only the question how to apply the rules and whether from a pedagogical point of view, a complex discussion is required.

Social rules:

  • Manners
  • Traditions
  • Forms of behaviour and cultures

Fixed rules:

  • Rules and duties in the group
  • Communication rules
  • Forms of criticism and criticism rules

Lots of group leaders tend to set up a very complex set of rules in which all adversaries of daily life are covered. A few general thoughts in advance open up the way to recognition of the important things. The first consideration should be the consequences (sanctions). The only serious sanction is the group reprimand (house arrest, sent home). Ask yourself the question if you really want to impose this sanction or not? Only sanctions which are possible should be threatened, otherwise the reputation or believability of the group leader will put into question.

There is also the question of whether current laws need to be stated and whether they should or must be incorporated into the group rules? Drugs, weapons and violence are forbidden and are not made less of crime by taking part in youth work. The deciding factor is the way you pedagogically deal with these phenomena. Lots of rules are only applied once the leaders feel insecure about the appropriateness of behaviour. It is of course normal, that a group leader cannot be and must not be a natural talent and competent in all areas. However, you should be clear in your recognition of this and in time, try to improve your competence.

The higher the level of self confidence in being able to deal with possible problems, the fewer rules you will need. The best case scenario is to impose only very few ground rules which cannot be bent.

  • Your group time or camp will begin much more harmoniously if you talk about the rules (you should always do this) than if you give out bans.

Rules, so that everyone is happy!

  • Everyone has the right to no physical injury.

  • Everyone has the right to his own sexual preference.

  • Everyone is responsible for himself and the group.

  • Be aware that the rules which are set should be achievable by all group members. If you have a drug addict in the group, it is unrealistic to ban drugs. Consider beforehand if you believe you can pedagogically handle such a problem. Otherwise it is in the interests of all involved if he/she does not take part.

  • Nothing is banned, just because. Every rule must have a logical and understandable explanation, which has a much more convincing effect on than the group than an abstract ban. Always try to explain to the group why it makes sense for them to stick to a rule.

  • Only introduce rules which you are determined to enforce. For example, a smoking ban is useless if you already know that you cannot and do not want to keep an eye on everyone and enforce the rule.

  • Rules are valid for all! Always ask yourself if you yourself want to and are able to stick to the rule? If alcohol is banned, it does not come across well if the leaders sit around in the evenings with beer and wine, because that is different.

  • Less is more! Only regulate what must definitely be regulated. No-one enjoys reading two pages of house rules and no-one can remember what they have read.

What will be regulated?

  • What do we want to regulate?

  • With which rules?

  • How will they be communicated? (black board, in group discussion, repetition)

  • How will they be enforced? (threats)

  • How will a break of the rules be handled? (Sanctions)

  • What do we want to achieve?

  • Are certain rules necessary? (Law)

  • How will we decide the group rules? (With the group members or with authority?)

Intervention - leading means intervening

Possibly the most important virtue when leading a group is the having the "confidence to intervene". The best ideas and the greatest rules are no use if no-one applies or enforces them. It is therefore also obvious that breaking the rules must have consequences; however the question is often asked regarding this point, if the leaders want to deal with the sanction stress of enforcing a rule or if a blind eye is turned to specific things. This is a fatal question because it is the deciding factor in the believability of the team and the seriousness of the rules. If a leader has turned a blind eye on purpose, he will always have to live with the argument ..."you didn't say anything last time"...The secret of a good group leader is the ability to predict and intervene in any potential conflict situations, so that it does not becomes a crisis. Conflicts have the same dynamics as the breaking of a dam: a small hole and the dam breaks quickly (that's called escalation!). The leader's task is therefore to look for the little holes and work with them.

It is easier to work on the small weaknesses of the individuals than to integrate outsiders into a group at a later date. A clear discussion with a young couple makes more sense than pregnancy advice after the "accident".

See - listen – speak

To watch and take in what is going on in the group at the time is the requirement for intervention. That means that the leaders must always be in the middle of things and must not let anything get past them. Listen, in order to find out is intervention really is necessary, as the group can often help themselves and solve problems or rule specific behaviour on their own. Intervention should be "necessary"!

Speaking is real intervention. If unclear situations occur, questions such as (what is wrong? How are you? Can I help you?) can help.

Is intervention seen to be necessary and should it immediately applied.

Has the group managed to solve a situation themselves where you might have intervened? That should be recognised and praised (you solved the situation brilliantly!).

When reflecting (or reviewing) you will make thoughts about how an event, group time or a piece of work went: What was good and what was not so good. Such reflections can help you in your future preparations of further work, group time, holiday camps or other areas of your youth work. You can reflect upon the members who took part and the members of the team (the persons who lead the event). By reflecting within the group you will receive information from the members of the group, this is called feed back. The members of the group then have the opportunity to say what they enjoyed and what they didn’t find so good. For example, opinions can be discussed involving the contents of the event, any methods used and the way the group was led, how you, the members have been treat and which contents were present and how you transferred them.

The feed back within the team might underline different leading styles which must then be handled as a point. Without any discussion, the different opinions or leading styles in a group can lead to conflicts. Through regular reviews, such problems can be avoided. The perception of the same situation might be seen very differently by different people. A piece of work which might have been seen to be good by a team leader, however the methods used might have not been suitable from the point of view of the group members. The feel for a situation within a group is a personal thing and therefore can be very different. This means that a sensible review is really only possible with several persons.

You will also learn about how members of the group perceive you. Using this information, you can learn to assess yourself better and deal with the group with more self confidence.

If several pieces of work are regularly reviewed when taking part in events with fixed groups, it is easier to assess the group and to constructively apply the group process. In doing this, you will always be aware of the position of the group.

5 "golden feed back rules"

  • Talk about yourself and your opinions (You are not "we" or "us").

  • Let the other speak (Otherwise you will not know what he really wanted to say).

  • Talk about specific points (Not everything is bad/good).

  • Leave space for the others (do not talk them into a corner or block them out).

  • Talk about the positive aspects and what you enjoyed.


As soon as you are established as a youth leader and are accepted by the group, you will quickly become an idol, a role model and someone who members like to ask advice from. On the basis of a developed trusting relationship, you will find yourself in situations which might not be comfortable or where you feel overwhelmed. On the one hand, you will often be the "object of affection", because group members might fall in love with you and demand more than you are prepared to give, on the other hand you will be an “emotional crutch” and trusted person and become involved in the most intimate things. The first role and area of tension is relatively easily judged and regulated according to legalities, however the second role is more complicated because your advice as a friend and trusted person is requested, irrespective of if you understand the subject or not. The smallest daily problems and serious life crises can land at your door. You must increasingly observe the “normal group work” to watch out for any increase in more serious problems. Whether alcohol and drug problems, criminality, prostitution or sexual mishandling, lots of questions might simply be too much for you, however you cannot generally end the conversation by saying that you are not responsible.

How should you deal with this?

At this point, only the following notes and suggestions should be made:

  • Think about how you will react before the first “problem “occurs. Think about what you believe you can manage and what not.

  • Listen very carefully to what your conversation partner is actually saying.

  • You must often be able to “read between the lines”, because the real problem is probably quite different.

  • Think about finding professional counselling advice (e.g. in the Yellow Pages). Your “client” will be grateful if you accompany them to the first appointment.

  • If you really cannot help any further, tell your conversation partner. A mutual helplessness is often better than wrong advice.

  • Do not try to force someone into something they do not want.

  • Take part in further education courses involving conversational techniques, counselling and communication.

Source: Team seminar, Tobias Heiny, Petra und Bernd Schmidt, Hamburg: Foundation of youth group work. Povided in the German language with kind authorisation for use by Praxis-Jugendarbeit (Youth work-Practice). Translated into English by Praxis-Jugendarbeit.

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