I sometimes joke that I’m one of a dozen people in the whole world who would pick young teens as my favorite age group to teach. They are always in flux and always challenging. They are never dull and rarely docile. They are going through physical, mental, emotional and spiritual changes, perhaps at a pace they will never achieve again. I don’t understand why this isn’t everyone’s favorite age group!
YOUNG TEENS are entering a new stage of development. Like newborn babies, they are constructing who they can become and what their lives will be like in the years ahead. I told a young teen who had been the terror of his childhood teachers that I wasn’t going to talk to them about him. He could start new, and I would see him only as who he would be from that day forward. He made the decision to grow into a new identity.
Teacher Tip: Let young teens know you are challenging them to seize this opportunity to redesign themselves. Who they were does not have to define who they will be.
YOUNG TEENS don’t tell themselves what they can’t do. They just go ahead and do it. I once challenged two groups of kids whose parents were missionaries in Japan to write about their lives. They were to submit their best writing to magazines and see which group—young teens or high school seniors—could get the most articles published. The young group won with almost twice as many acceptance letters as the older group. The 17 year olds knew how impossible publishing an article could be, but not the younger teens. They just jumped into the assignment and accomplished it.
Teacher Tip: Challenge young teens with unusual and difficult ways of stretching their creativity and their faith.
YOUNG TEENS are exploring what it means to be Christians apart from their parents. They are investigating new and difficult faith issues. Don’t ignore their questions or faith doubts. If you’re not there for them, they will find their answers on their own without a Christ-centered influence. Without a teacher who is able to guide, (and this sometimes means saying, “I don’t know, but let’s search together”) some of the brightest will leave the faith.
Teacher Tip: If you aren’t willing to seriously interact over issues that theologians have struggled with for years, don’t teach this age level.
YOUNG TEENS are answering the question, “Who am I?” They are self-centered and self-concerned, and this is not a bad thing. God built this life stage into their growth cycle. What they feel today is who they are today. They often say and do hurtful things, and not by accident. I got a note from a 13-year-old girl: “I hate you, Miss LeFever. Love, Lorilee.” Part of me wanted to cry, but the part of me that loves this age level realized that was exactly how she felt about me. She loved/hated me. She felt the same way about her parents and the same way about God. She was learning to deal with her emotions, an important task she could not skip if she was going to grow into a healthy adult.
Teacher Tip: Develop thick skin to teach this age level, and demonstrate what it’s like to be a mature adult who has a growing Christian identity.
The only certain way to learn about today’s teens is to interact with them. If you’re thinking this might be the age level for you, begin by making friends with young teens in your church. Say “Hi”. Ask them questions that require more than single word answers. Make eye contact. Use the same tone of voice you would use to converse with adults. Build continuity by connecting with them every Sunday. If they walk right by you, call them on it. Say something like, “Hey, we’re friends, remember? What did you do this week that’s worth remembering?” Do this often enough and they’ll move you onto their “friend” list. In the next issue of Entre Niños, I’ll share more things I’ve learned about teaching young teens.
You can access this entire magazine for free here: Edition 30