If there is one common theme that surfaces every time I talk with parents of middle schoolers it’s this: it’s really confusing and really hard. Why? Because change is what marks this phase of life, and change isn’t easy for anyone.
I have worked with middle school students in educational, athletic, and ministry settings for more than 14 years now. Although each context was uniquely different, there were still a few basic things about (most) middle schoolers that remained the same no matter what.
1. They push their parents away.
This is normal. Middle schoolers want freedom. They aren’t kids anymore, and when they are treated that way, they revolt. They push back on everything from bedtime to chores to going places by themselves to social media. They want to make their own choices. They are tired of being told what to do and when to do it. That’s the tension of living somewhere in the middle. That’s why it’s so important as a parent of a middle schooler to have adults you trust in their life other than you. Those adults can stand in the gap between your teenager and you (and help them see you are right after all).
2. They may act one way with you and the complete opposite with someone else.
You get a call from their teacher, coach, or small group leader, and hear a story about how helpful they are around the classroom, or encouraging they are during group time. And you instantly think, “Seriously? My kid? I can’t even remember the last time they said anything encouraging to their siblings, or the last time they helped around the house without complaining.” It’s confusing when they act different with different people. Why do they do that? It’s not that they are being fake, they are just trying on different parts of their personality to see what fits them best.
3. What their friends think matters more than anything else.
This is difficult, because as puberty begins to change them from the inside out, middle schoolers are desperately trying to fit in. Peer approval will always trump advice from adults (especially their parents). They can’t be seen wearing those pants, hanging with those boys, or walking around in public with their parent. The point is, teenagers in the middle school phase care more about what their peers say than anyone else. This isn’t just your kid.
4. They exaggerate (and sometimes lie).
When you find yourself wondering, “What happened to my kid? They didn’t use to be this way,” know you are not alone. This is middle school. Something happens at the 8th grade dance, and your kid is huddled in a circle crying in the bathroom with her friends. If it’s trending, they are talking about it… non-stop. Friend drama is basically an all out brawl (with words or rumors). It thunders outside, and they act like they’ve never been in a storm before in their lives. They see a snake outside, and it’s most certainly trying to eat them. Their teacher is obviously the most unfair person on the whole planet. Oh, and they didn’t copy that homework or cheat on that test; they were just scratching their head! You get the point. It’s a phase full of all out exaggeration.
5. They are incredibly insecure about what is happening to their bodies.
They feel like they are the only ones going through this thing called middle school. And when you feel like you are the only one going through something, you feel like all eyes are on you at all times. Normalizing what’s happening to and around them is important, but be sensitive to the fact that when you bring up what’s happening to their body, they may get even more insecure at the fact that you are noticing. If you are trying to get your middle schooler to do something in front of their peers and they resist, there is probably a physical explanation for it. Sweat stains. Period leakage. Wrong bra. Gas. Food in their braces. Acne. Though it’s all normal, it feels isolating to them. So don’t push them.
6. They want to have fun, but they want to be taken seriously.
You can’t be boring, or they won’t want to spend time with you. They don’t want you to just allow them to have fun; they want you to have fun with them. At the same time, they want you to be real with them. They want to be taken seriously. They don’t want surface answers. They want direct, real explanations. When they tell you something that seems silly to you but real to them, you can’t laugh. You can’t dismiss it. You have to engage it with a matched level of seriousness to show them you care.
7. YouTube is Gucci.
According to many research studies, 80%-95% of Generation Z seeks advice through YouTube channels and videos. The most searched videos are about real stories, day-in-the-life videos, behind-the-scenes videos, or how-to videos. They want to know about relationships and dating, teen trends, advice on how to do new skills, and more. If they don’t know how, they go to YouTube. If they don’t know what it is, they go to YouTube. If they want to become famous, they go to YouTube. So basically, you should be on YouTube, too.
Parenting middle schoolers is no easy task, which is why understanding where they are and what’s normal will help you stay sane as the parent. Remember: It’s not just your kid, it’s just middle school.
Discover what’s changing about your kid or teen over the next 52 weeks, the 6 things your kid needs most, and 4 conversations to have in each phase. The Phase Project, including these Middle School Phase Guides, is a synthesis of personal experience, academic research, and gatherings of leaders and educational experts from across the child development spectrum.
Okay, so the Verizon guy… wait the Sprint guy… whoever he is with, gave us a simple phrase that sticks out in my mind all the time. Our family totally changed services here in New Braunfels in order to HEAR ONE ANOTHER. From where we live currently to where we go out and about, we continuously found certain areas where our calls were dropped. Then, as we moved out of the “dead spot” we magically connected again. Needless to say, we made a move TO BE HEARD.
That same question, “CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?” seems to come up as we focus on prayer as well.
The BEST example we have is JESUS HIMSELF, as he preaches His first (and need I say LONGEST) sermon that cuts to our hearts, even today. In this Sermon, presented on a mountain, he directs His people to think about the “WHY” when it comes to prayer.
“Don’t be like the hypocrites, for they love standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full” (Matthew 6:5 NIV).
“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then, your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6 NIV).
WHAT IS THE REWARD?
When we create a space and a place to CALL ON the Lord, we get more than an instant download code for 20% off on a flash sale. When we make time to focus on the person of JESUS and call out to HIM, we get more than three wishes for all our dreams to come true. Our REWARD is far greater than a “good day” or a material possession.
OUR REWARD IS A DEEP RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS.
Isn’t that what our hearts truly call out for? I believe we are moved to choose a payment plan and upgrade to a new cell phone because we value the close relationships in our lives. We desire to connect with others on a deeper level, and we want to guarantee a secure connection.
How does the value with our Father translate to our daily lives?
I believe that an intentional TIME and PLACE builds a foundation for a deep encounter with the God of the Universe through Jesus Christ. How have you created an intentional time and place this week to connect? How have you seen the ultimate reward work out in your own daily walk with Jesus?
I don’t know about you, but many times, I want to pray, have the desire to grow in my prayer life, but I don’t know exactly what else to pray after about… 30 seconds. I think this problem leads to giving up on connecting with God in this way on a consistent basis. I mean, with all the distractions of raising kids, getting them in the right place with the right things at the right time, sometimes I turn around and realize I missed getting ME in the right place with the right things at the right time. Then we have technology, the game to watch, and oh yea, that source of income is good to invest in as well. It’s not that we don’t want to connect with God that’s the problem. I think its the fact that time is always slipping away through our fingertips. Before you know it, you are laying yourself to sleep and throw up a, “THANK YOU JESUS… FOR MY BED!”
So as not to WASTE TIME, maybe we need to build confidence to use our time WISELY. That is where the question begins to be:
If I’m going to pray, how can I do it right?
You want to do it right? Literally COPY A GREAT PRAYER!
‘And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. ‘ Colossians 1:9-14
What better example do we have than Paul and his prayer out of God’s Truth in Colossians?
My challenge for myself for the NEW YEAR is to just PRAY THIS.
I am taking whatever time I have in the morning, after lunch time for a moment, as my mind wanders in the evening, to basically copy and paste most of Paul’s prayer for individuals that come to mind. The easiest way to start is to find those right in front of you. Pray for your family to be filled with Spiritual Wisdom and Understanding. Pray for good works and fruit from God Himself. Ask for strength according to His might. Do you need endurance, patience, and joy anytime soon? How about the consistent reminder that we have a Father through Jesus Christ that delivered us out of darkness and qualified us to be saints in light? Needless to say, I have found my own joy and connection with God as I have used a great prayer guide in Colossians Chapter 1.
Devotional Thought: When our feelings get us down, God’s truth can pick us back up.
Warm Up: What am I feeling? Write different emotions onto sticky notes for your family members (one for each participant). Without looking at them have each participant place their emotion on their forehead. Ask family members to pair up and guess their “feelings” by acting them out to each other. Rotate around the room and encourage those participating to have fun by overdoing it on the emotional side.
Questions for Follow Up
When have you felt overwhelmed or down by your emotions?
How do your feelings tend to shape your day or week?
How do you think God reacts to our emotions and big feelings?
The Video: Peabod is a hip-hop artist from Seattle, Washington that gets the whole overwhelmed feeling. While most of his music is meant to bring happiness and lightness to life, this song shares a little bit of a different vibe. Play Peabod’s music video for Big Feelings.
List any emotions depicted or experienced in the video while watching. Share your reactions to the video as a family.
In Lamentations, we find someone that can relate to the struggle of being overwhelmed with emotions and feelings that could ruin anyone’s day. Jeremiah shares some raw emotion about his feelings of hopelessness and loss as he reacts to his circumstances around him.
How did Jeremiah change his mindset to give him hope?
What truth about God do you find in these verses?
What action do you need to take when you are feeling down?
How can you find hope to get back up again?
Our emotions and feelings can change our outlook on life and get us down for a day, or even a week. However, God’s steadfast love and mercy can get us back up and give us hope no matter the circumstance. When your feelings get the best of you, change your mindset and begin focusing on who God is to get you back up again.
What is one emotion you’ve felt overwhelmed by recently?
What is one scripture you can find as a family that God can use to help you the next time you feel overwhelmed?
On a scale of 1 to 10, How important is it to you to: Fit in? Be popular? Be unique? Describe yourself as a part of the body. (An eye, hand, foot, etc.) Why did you select that part? How connected are you to your local church body? What can you do to help the “body” function better?
The drummer boy wanted to use his best ability for the King, so he played a drum. How does the TRUTH in Colossians 3:17 help you think about your gifts and talents? What are you involved in, right now, that you can use for God’s glory? How can our family pray for your gifts, talents, and abilities this week?
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Luke 2:14, NIV
THINK ABOUT THIS
Best Christmas Ever is a series designed to help students recognize that the best things about Christmas aren’t the things we typically tend to remember first during the season. They’re the things God did for us thousands of years ago. Though encouraging students to embrace abstract concepts like the fact that God is with them and wants to know them may be difficult for some middle schoolers to grasp, it’s important to help them recognize these key elements of what Christmas is all about. These are things they can celebrate and understand as they grow in maturity and relationship with God.
Take time to celebrate the person who spends a lot of their time with your middle schooler: their Small Group Leader! Write them a card, shoot them a text, give them a call, or put together a little Christmas gift for them to show your appreciation for how they invest in and care about your kid.
Let each member of your family share what activity would make their Christmas the best Christmas ever! Maybe it’s a Christmas movie marathon, a drive to see holiday lights, a special treat made at home, or a chance to serve someone else. Whatever it is, let each person choose their best Christmas ever activity and then, make an effort to do each one this holiday season.
Make an effort to bless others this holiday season. Choose a day to make Christmas cookies, cards, candy, or another holiday treat together as a family. Then, deliver them to your neighbors to spread a little Christmas cheer to those around you this week.
Read the Christmas story together as a family this week (Luke 2:2-20). After you read, discuss some of what you read as a family. Talk together about what this story means for you today and how you can remember it during the holiday season.
There’s reality behind the story and history of Santa Claus.
There actually was a man known as Nicholas who was born in AD 280 in Asia Minor, which is modern-day Turkey. He was bishop of the church in Myra, participated in the First Council of Nicaea, and helped the church find the best language to describe the Incarnation of Jesus.
St. Nicholas was beloved because he spent his life helping the poor and underprivileged. He was the first to initiate programs for mentally challenged children. His love for children led him to visit their homes at night disguised in a red-and-white hooded robe to leave gifts of money, clothing, and food in their windows or around their fireplaces.
After his death, he was made the patron saint of sailors since his church was located in a port city and had an extensive ministry to those who traveled the sea. He was later named the patron saint of Russia. Nicholas was one of history’s most venerated saints, with more than five hundred songs and hymns written in his honor. Christopher Columbus arrived in Haiti in 1492 and named the port after him. By the year 1500, more than seven hundred churches in Britain were dedicated to him.
The Dutch especially appreciated his life. They spelled his name Sint Nikolass, which, in America, became Sinterklass, or Santa Claus.
His popularity grew through a poem written by Dr. Clement Clark Moore, a theology and classics professor at Union Seminary in New York. In 1822, he penned the classic, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” better known today as “The Night Before Christmas.” Artist Thomas Nast illustrated the book, creating the figure we now know as the jolly Santa Claus.
That’s the reality behind the story of Santa Claus. St. Nicholas’ selfless lifestyle was based on his love for God and people.
Now, let’s look at the actual Christmas story and why it should matter so much to our lives.
Christmas nativity scenes all over the Christian world will once again be unpacked and displayed to relate the story of that glorious first Christmas: a beautiful young woman protected by her equally attractive young husband, adoring shepherds with their sheep, and three majestic kings from the Orient bearing their magnificent gifts for the baby lying in a manger.
But very little that blessed night happened the way our decorations depict it. Let’s discover why.
Why do we celebrate Christmas on December 25?
According to our traditions, Santa Claus visits our homes on December 24, Christmas Eve. And we celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25. But, do we know why we observe Christmas on that day?
The night Jesus was born, the Bible tells us that the shepherds were in the fields tending their sheep (Luke 2:8), something they did not do in the winter. The Roman census, which brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, would not have been possible in winter either.
It is most likely Jesus was born in the springtime. Early scholars estimate the time around March 25 or sometime in April. But Christmas was not celebrated as a holiday for nearly four centuries.
For many years, the Romans had celebrated the “birthday” of the sun each year on December 25 since that date is near the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s the beginning of the winter season. Pagan festivals marked the occasion for centuries before Christians began using the “birthday” of the sun as the birthday of the Son.
By 1038, the Mass of Christ was called Cristes Maesse, from which we get the word “Christmas.” In 1223, St. Francis of Assisi assembled the first nativity scene.
And so Jesus’ birthday is celebrated on December 25, and St. Nicholas is the “patron saint” of the holiday.
Sometimes we go about our week, do the daily thing, and forget to stop, take a breath, and fill our hearts up with gratitude for all that we have been given. Maybe this pandemic has forced subtraction in your life, so you are grateful for the addition as it may have come back to you. Then, as the days of HYBRID have brought back a busy schedule, that addition came back in a landslide. Take a moment and stop, read Psalm 103, and reflect on all the great attributes of God and His hand on your life.
‘ Bless the Lord , O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord , O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. Bless the Lord , O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the Lord , all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! Bless the Lord , all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord , O my soul!’
Take the Family Challenge and Download the Student Guide above. Read Psalm 103 as a family and reflect on all that God has given you. End the time crafting your own “Family Psalm 103,” and use it as a reminder to stop and THANK GOD for all HE has given you.