Part of being a WyldLife leader is simply remembering what middle schoolers are experiencing. I entered middle school over 25 years ago but still vividly recall my fear of Wednesday nights.
I enjoyed going to youth group and loved playing basketball afterwards…until the first time I got picked to be on the ‘skins’ team. I was a ‘late bloomer’ and while many of my friends had already hit puberty, my 4’11 frame still carried more baby weight than I wanted the ladies to see. After being told to remove my shirt I faked sick and then gave up playing Wednesday night ball for good.
Physical development is one of the most confusing parts of being a middle schooler, especially in the age of ‘selfies.’ Our teenage friends are looking in the cameras…and in mirrors…and at their peers…and asking the question, “Am I normal?’ They’re probably also asking ‘Why is hair growing in my armpit?’ (Or, why isn’t it?)
Because puberty occurs at different times and at a different pace for every kid, there is a huge battle of mental comparison and personal criticism. This can result in young teenagers feeling inadequate, out of place, and out of control.
- Growth spurt
- Females typically add 8 lbs/year and grow 7 inches during adolescence. This begins at an average of age 12 for females.*
- Males typically average adding 10 lbs/year and grow a total of 9.5 inches during adolescence. This begins at an average of age 14 for males.
- Uneven Skeletal Changes
- The bones in their feet and legs may grow while everything else stays the same.
- This can result in lack of coordination and growing pains.
- In males, testosterone levels often increase 18x as much as they were before puberty.
- In females, estradiol levels often increase 8x the amount they were before puberty.
- Increase in adrenaline, resulting in energy highs and lows, often leading to extreme exhaustion and mood swings.
- Active sweat glands often lead to oily hair, acne, and a need to purchase deodorant.
- Increased appetite.
- Voice changes, hair growth, and physical growth might lead to one extreme:
- More timid personality (ex: wearing baggy clothes)
- More confidence (ex: wanting to display a more mature body)
These physical changes impact their emotional, social and spiritual development as well. As they develop a capacity for abstract thinking, young teenagers become more curios about life- and faith, too. But because this curiosity is often stifled by insecurity, middle schoolers have tons of questions they’re often afraid to ask.
One remedy I’ve seen for this dilemma is a ‘Questions Box.’ Every week at Campaigners there’s a box, slips of paper and pens. Anonymously, kids can write any question they have about anything and leaders will attempt to answer them on specific ‘Q & A nights’ throughout the semester. When we as leaders take these questions seriously and offer thoughtful responses, we speak to one unspoken fear: Am I strange/weird/odd even for asking this? Our responses say, “Of course not.”
The bottom line is this: Your middle school friends are confused and curious. They have questions and want answers. Questions about anything from God to their bods. Many of them feel too awkward or insecure to talk to real people so Google ends up being their source for truth.
Let’s remember where our middle school friends are coming from as we get to know them and point them to Jesus.
And let’s remind our teenage friends that they can ask us hard questions without fear of rejection.
Curiosity doesn’t have to kill the cat, it can also open a heart.
Written by Drew Hill.
*I used a few different sources for the stats above, but this book on adolescent development was the most helpful.