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It feels a bit cliche to speak about the horrible, negative years of middle school. Every adult can likely draw up memories that bring a shudder, a groan, or a quick change of subject. Of course there are the others that also bring a chuckle, but those are often at someone else’s expense. As parents, these memories can cause us to look with dread upon our children who are approaching their teen years, as if we are projecting our bad experiences onto them and anticipating the worst of all possible scenarios.

Why are these years so difficult for us as humans to progress through? I’ll suggest 10 things that parents can expect from in the form of changes (and one bonus) – these were the first 10 things that came to mind when I was presented with this topic to write about. They are in no particular order, and you will notice that there is a bit of interplay and overlap between the changes that are listed:

10. Physical size, disproportionately gained. Pre-teen and early teen years come with phenomenal growth. Sometimes I feel like I can sit at the back of a classroom and actually see the growth happening! You may find yourself buying new pants for your child just a few months after buying the last pair because the old ones are now 4 inches too short. These physical spurts also come with clumsiness. Things seem out of proportion and misaligned, but all things are working together to get to that final adult stage. 

9. Sass. Yep, there is a bit of sass that comes along with the hormone bath that pre-teens are experiencing, even from your normally polite child. It’s hard to keep it in mind, but they don’t always realize they are being rude. Of course, sometimes they do, and they need to be corrected for that.

8. A desire for independence. Children at this stage are beginning to view themselves as independent people. A desire for their peers to like them and for your child to feel a sense of belonging to their peer group is a big motivator for the behavior choices they make. 

7. A need for quiet support from you. Your preteen will start to not want to see you at school, but they do want to know that you have their back. They don’t necessarily want you to step in and solve their problems, but they do want to know that you hear and understand the troubles they are seeing. As a parent, this can be a delicate balance to work through, and it can be difficult to resist stepping in when you can foresee the major blunder coming.

6. A quiet longing for affirmation. Even though your child acts like their peers are more important, they still secretly long to be known and loved by you. They will sometimes take your love for granted, but it is a safe space for them, something familiar that they not only want, but that they also need.

5. Changes in likes and dislikes. With their independence and their developing sense of self, pre-teens will also go through many iterations of themselves, liking what they hated last week or hating what was the latest trend the month before. Many times this is dependent on the latest trend/fad/craze and what the peer group thinks is cool (lit, bussin’, or drippy). As maddening as this may feel, they are working through their own self identity and discovering the way God has made them.

4. Attention to the opposite sex. This will happen to various degrees and at various times to different pre-teens, but it inevitably comes (which is why it is vitally important for you to have biblically based conversations with your children before they get to this stage!). They will have crushes that come and go, and to them it will feel like the world is ending (it happened to us, too!). It’s likely that most will not want to share this with you, but the signs will be obvious.

3. Awareness of a broader world. Students at this age begin to recognize that the world is way bigger than the little corner of it that we occupy. They will develop the ability to think abstractly, and will make many connections between what is local and what is global. It is a prime time to nurture this understanding in the context of global missions and the world around them, seeing how Christians around the world serve and worship God, and how many may be persecuted for it.

2. Questioning EVERYTHING. Some of you reading this just shouted AMEN! Pre-teens and teens begin to question everything, challenging the way things are and the reasons for how we choose to do things. 

1. Ignorant defiance*. Along with their developing sense of a broader world comes an attitude that communicates, “I know this, and more than you.” Pre-teens and early teens are confident that they know, and they are confident that they know more than you know. 

Bonus – This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that major blunders accompany this stage as well. With all the changes and experimenting that pre-teens and teens deal with, they will inevitably experience many failures along the way. These are OK! And are a part of their own growth. 

After writing this list out, and rereading it, it would be easy to get discouraged about the task of raising children through these years. So I will end with a quote from The Age of Opportunity, one which calls us to seize these developmental years and direct them in our child’s (children’s) lives for God’s purposes and His glory:

“It’s time for us to reject the wholesale cynicism of our culture regarding adolescence. Rather than years of undirected and unproductive struggle, these are years of unprecedented opportunity. They are the golden age of parenting, when you begin to reap all the seeds you have sown in your child’s life, when you can help your teenager to internalize truth and prepare him or her for a productive, God-honoring life as an adult.” (p 18)

Finally, as a word of advice, remember that as parents, we are in it for the long game. Every child will go through adolescence, and our goal is to help them do so with a strong faith in God and a relationship with him. We can’t (meaning shouldn’t) step in to fix everything for our children – this creates a dependency in them that they will carry through their adult years. We can walk with them and counsel them, but then must let them have at it with the decisions they have to make. We can help them see the heart issues behind the struggles they have, and help them learn to depend on God to restore and transform them. This will in turn help them to develop the wisdom and convictions to mature into adulthood with their faith intact.

*Thanks to High School Principal Dan Cirone for helping label this trait.

Daniel Lazor

By: Daniel Lazor

Dan Lazor is the Principal at the Eastern Christian Middle School campus.

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