On a recent Focus on the Family interview, Kevin Leman said something to the effect that they’re now seeing behavior in middle school kids that previous generations didn’t manifest until early college. I think you know the kind of thing he’s talking about.
I don’t want to talk about that here today. I don’t want our minds to go there beyond a passing understanding that today’s kids are experimenting with sex at very, very young ages. (And drugs, too; he mentioned the prevalence of heroin in the suburbs because the richer kids can afford it.)
What I want to talk about is the idea that a kid — and remember we’re now talking middle school, so grades five to eight — begins a routine of sexual activity or drug use that also, running along a parallel track, begins an estrangement from God. Leman says that even the most church-immersed kid will do anything to fit in with his other friends; the ones at school.
Obviously, anything that the church is teaching at this point may become either objectionable or convicting. Nobody wants to hear all that moralism if it’s starting to stand in contrast to an emerging behavioral lifestyle. So they make excuses why they can’t attend weekend services or mid-week groups.
- “I don’t feel well.”
- “I have an assignment due tomorrow.”
- “I need to take a week off.”
The thing is, the life and ministry of Jesus was all about hanging out with the people who were the most overt sinners in his time and place. No kid should feel that Jesus is the enemy, but they do. They are starting to recognize there is a cost to following him, and part of that cost is going to involve not doing what it seems that everybody else is doing.
The other aspect of this is that depending on how your church allocates staff responsibility, it’s often the children’s ministry director who is now working with kids dealing with issues that formerly were the exclusive purview of the youth ministry director. Plus, youth pastors are generally more wired to track down a kid who starts skipping youth group and trying to get to the heart of what issues may be arising. A KidMin director may assume that the parents have any situation under control.
For parents, observing the pattern shouldn’t take long, but understanding the reasons may take some research. Who are his/her current best friends? What are they talking about at lunch or on the school bus? What are they watching online? What type of things happened at the Friday night party he/she went to; or the party before that?
Keeping a healthy dialog going is key to knowing your middle schooler’s heart and mind. One thing said on the Focus broadcast was that the place for some serious discussions is often while you’re on the Interstate. The kids have nowhere to go. Get them to lose the earbuds for a few minutes and find out what is central to their world.
But please, hear this: Don’t let their spiritual life die in the middle of a time of peer pressure and temptation. This is when they need an anchor.
I’ve wandered in a different direction today — looking at the child/church relationship — but you can listen to the program with Kevin Leman at Focus on the Family in two parts, starting with part one*; or in his book Planet Middle School.
*many of the citations above are actually from part two