This year’s theme is “The Body.” Today we explore that theme with….
The Body of a Middle-Schooler
Jamie Mackey is the Minister to Students and Families at First Baptist Church of Huntsville, Alabama. He is a long-timer in youth ministry (20+ years) and has recently created Bow Tie Youth Ministries Resources. Jamie is married to Hope, and they are parents to Cade, Story, and their dog Sally.
Gotta love middle schoolers — right?
The answer is YES because not many other people do at this stage of their lives. Or at least they often don’t feel all that loved or secure in themselves. Their lives are changing. Their BODIES are changing. Their world is changing.
Middle school teachers are pushing higher expectations with studies, projects, and behavior. School buildings and facilities change for most. New hallways to learn, new lunchrooms and new social orders to figure out, and new activities to participate are all claiming for attention. Sometimes the middle school is the collection of multiple feeder schools so there are new faces to learn. Friend groups often shift or change. All of this transition can leave a person feeling lost.
On top of that, their bodies are quickly changing. They can go from skinny to chunky to skinny or not. Hair starts growing where hair has never been before. Voices make like a cereal by going snap, crackle, pop. Most boys are becoming fascinated with flexing newly found muscles. Private parts grow. Unexpected dreams leave the suddenly awakened bewildered. Attractions emerge causing responses once like “icky” and “gross” to “WOW!” This transition leaves the early adolescent confused.
These changes cause some to hide ashamed of this new sense of self. Others are suddenly overly proud the new look. Pants and shirts are worn either tighter or looser depending on the level of self-consciousness they are experiencing (and that level will often change multiple times through the course of one day). Some will think they are 4 years older than they actually are and attempt to hang with the high schoolers. Others cling on to play time.
Their world is constantly in flux. Their world as they have known it can feel lost, empty, or a whirlwind. We don’t want to leave them lost or confused. It’s an invitation to step into their world and be a stable piece when nothing seems stable. Where are the places and how can we connect to influence in the midst of change?
- Realize the enormity of the change they are experiencing. Within this realization, acknowledgement and ownership that their state of flux is much different than how we experienced this transition is a must. Yes, there are similarities, but the differences are vast from our generations to theirs.
- Acknowledge that we do not know everything about their changing world. This step requires us to educate ourselves. Read books like It’s Just a Phase by Reggie Joiner and Kristen Ivy; Teenage Girls by Ginny Olson; and Teenage Guys by Steve Gerali. Do everything we can to resource ourselves.
- Know that the question “Who am I?” is the central question of middle schoolers. Schools change. Social structures change. Bodies change. The combination of these leaves the middle schooler in the search for who they will be.
- Serve as a mirror for them. When they look at us, it’s as if we are a mirror into their identity development. The middle schooler wonders what our perception of them is. They are trying to determine who they are through our eyes. How we relate to them speaks to how they answer their big question “Who am I?” How can we make being a mirror an opportunity to speak positive, God-given life into them? We speak words and give actions of identity, worth, and belonging. Notice a new haircut or the bulging of muscles. Give (side) hugs and tell them how good it is to see them every time you see them. Ask questions and listen. Seek out time to spend with them. How we spend time with them may be 5 minutes talking on a retreat or cheering them on from the bleachers. Speak of precise ways they make the group better. Brag in front of peers and parents about anything they have done — big or small. Everytime we do these things, we serve as a positive mirror to them.
Did you notice that each of these are actions initiated by the adult? If we wait for the student to begin the process, we will be forever waiting. So, let’s take the initiative and step into the ever changing world of a middle schooler. It’s worth it!