Oh, the joys of having a middle schooler. If you have been through it, then you know the heavy sarcasm with which I am making that statement. The mood swings, the attitude, and the smells - oh the smells - just to a name a few of the joys. I have now been through it twice, and am right in the throes of it with my third child who is about to finish 6th grade. I also have had the pleasure of watching several groups of 5th graders transition to 6th grade over the last several years in ministry. So the transition into middle school is one I am very familiar with.
I think there is a big part of this transition in our kids' lives that we can sometimes forget or maybe not give enough attention. There is so much physical and mental growth going on that we can sometimes forget there is also spiritual growth going on. In fact, there is a WHOLE LOT of spiritual growth happening on during this time.
It is actually one of my favorite times in a child’s spiritual development because I believe it's when they really begin to make their faith their own. It's during this time that they begin to figure out for themselves that God is who He says is, that His promises are true, and that He really did for them, through Jesus, what the Bible says He did. Even if your child was baptized in elementary school and has believed for years, they will still go through this process at some point in middle or high school. And it is a process we want them to go through because it is how they make their faith all their own and strong enough to stand on on their own. That is why our role as parents and leaders in their life during this time is so important.
I’d like to share three things I have found through the Phase Project that help leaders and parents walk with middle schoolers in this important part of their faith journey. The Phase Project is a study by Kristin Ivy and Reggie Joiner, who researched the phases a child goes through from birth to eighteen years old. One of the things I really love about their research is that they didn't just look at what a child needs socially, emotionally, and developmentally at each phase, but they also looked at what a child needs spiritually at each phase. You can find all their research in their book It’s Just a Phase, as well as on their website http://justaphase.com.
The material I will be referencing in this post is from an article written by Kristin Ivy called 3 Easy Ways to Impact a Middle Schooler’s Identity and Faith.
This sounds easy, but come on. If we are honest, there are plenty of times when we are dealing with our kids and not thinking they are made in the image of God. However, we can try our best to do it as much as possible. It's important to constantly remind them they are smart enough, strong enough, and important enough to take on a new responsibility or make a big decision. The whole world is telling them who to be, how to dress, how to talk, how to act, and what to do. We need to help them remember that the only thing that really matters is that they were created in the image of an awesome and amazing God, and His opinion is the only one that truly matters. We need to help remind them of their potential to do incredible things because God created them for a specific purpose and plan. We need to help them learn and believe that their self-confidence and who they are comes from God and nothing else.
Ivy writes in the article,
“Engineers use both physics and design to solve problems. A middle schooler’s brain works the same way. They’re looking at more than a decade of learning to try and find ways that everything fits together. This is your chance to show them how the overarching narrative of scripture connects not only from Genesis to Revelation but to their very own life as well.”
I have some scary news to share with you. At some point over the next few years there is a big chance that your child will want to stop going to church. Please don’t give in! And this, that they are connecting the dots, is one of the main reasons. They are trying to make their faith their own and connect it to their own life. They cannot do that if they are not hearing and learning God's Word. The more they are hearing and learning God’s story, the better they will be able to figure out what it all means for their own life and their journey with God.
After watching kids transition to student ministry over the past few years, I think this is one of the biggest pieces of advice I would give to parents. It is so important for middle and high schoolers to stay engaged in church and learning about God with kids their own age. It is one the biggest ways they build their own faith - a faith that can stay strong once they become adults and go out into the world on their own.
I think this one would be my second biggest piece of advice to parents of middle schoolers. Let your child ask all the questions in the world. Let them doubt. And don’t freak out when they do because asking questions and doubting is natural and normal. If they are trying to connect the dots and make sense of the world and their faith, there will be lots of questions. Let them ask questions and try answer it the best you can. And if you don’t know the answer, because that will happen as it happens to all of us, know that that’s ok and it's ok to tell them you don’t know. Use that as an opportunity to either try and learn the answer together through researching it and/or reaching out to someone who may know the answer. Give them the freedom and space they need to figure out why they believe what they believe. Again, you won’t always have the answers, but together you can help affirm their journey and walk it with them along the way.
If you’d like to read the full article you can check it out here. There are also tons of other helpful material on this site for every phase your children may be going through. It is one of my favorite parenting resources!