If you mention to folks that you work with middle school kids, you will likely get one of two responses, a groan, or an assumption that you are a saint. As Wydlife folks, we get a bad rap as the JV of Yl, or the arm pit of the mission, and largely it is because of the company that we keep. Our culture does not take middle school kids seriously. Here are some words to describe middle school kids – impossible, immature, no filter, talks over everyone, rude, not just self-centered but self-absorbed, loud, obnoxious.
Our culture does not take middle school kids seriously, but we do. As leaders, we know that if we take the heart of a middle kid seriously they will give us great influence over their lives! Here are some insights into taking the heart of a middle school kid seriously:
We are learning more and more that we need to take their brains seriously – they are not crazy, and it’s not just a bunch of wacky hormones making them act like that. They are not just immature adult brains, they are actually wired for a very important task –breaking away, becoming independent, leaving home. And leaving home takes a lot of openness and risk, and this is exactly what their brains are wired for. They are wired for quick learning, openness and risk. The prefrontal cortex is under a huge remodel and has not fully developed yet. This part of the brain is like a governor that helps pull all the other parts together, but in young adolescence it is still in process, so many kids do not yet have great capacity to be reflective or insightful. One brain researcher * claims it is the most dangerous times in our lives. We take their brains seriously when we aim tokeep our message and ministry right now, right here, right about them. In many ways, they can’t relate to us and our experiences, but since we have journeyed through that season, we can relate them. Remember your own experience of middle school, and use it to understand. While a lot has changed, each and every one of us still has to journey through puberty, that season where you feel like your wear your nerve endings on the outside of your skin and what everyone else thinks REALLY DOES MATTER! Don’t ask them to relate to you, work to relate to them, take them as they are.
Here is another important aspect of their brains, they are keeping what they need, and shedding what they don’t. What doesn’t get repeated or used gets sifted out. We don’t want the gospel, the love story of Jesus to be sifted out. We want to massage it in, with repetition, with relationship. It is an incredibly fertile, open and important season to be in the life of middle school kids. You can take a 13 year old who says they are an atheist to camp, and they will take in what they hear and may leave considering or even following Jesus. That won't happen with a 17 year old.
Wealso need to take their faith journey seriously. They are at best in a "parade" * phase of faith, where faith is associated with the group/club, or family, and we are trying to tee them up for individual faith which for some may come a few years later. Give them a solid parade to take part in, our club, our campaigners, our friendships, even and especially our family. So many kids, so many kids, so many kids are growing up with very little family or parent support; Our families can be a witness. Let them experience our families as part of the parade of faith for their lives.
Dream up ways as a team to take middle school kids seriously. If you take a ms kid seriously, they will give you great influence in their lives. They are more open than at any other time in their life. They are once in a lifetime!
*referenced in this article Brainstorm byDan Siegel and Evangelization and Justice by John Walsh