Have you ever met the guy or gal who just never grew up? Sure we all have friends who may still enjoy shopping at Zumies and wear jeans that sparkle well into their forties, but I’m talking about those who just didn’t seem to move and mature out of adolescence.
I dusted off a book this week that attempts to answer why this happens.
It’s called Our Last Best Shot by Laura Sessions Stepp, and in it Mrs. Stepp makes the case that early adolescents are seeking to answer and satisfy three questions so that they might continue on in their journey toward independent adulthood. She argues that if all or even just one of the questions go unresolved, a teen will struggle adjusting into adulthood. Parents, I want to share these three questions with you so that you might do the following:
- Be aware of what’s going on in the mind of your middle schooler.
- Be active in trying to answer and satisfy these needs.
The questions are…
Am I loved?
Babies are carried and coddled. Children are held, hugged. And middle schoolers are…well something changes, doesn’t it. And it’s not just your fault. You try to hug them and all of the sudden they don’t want it or makes them feel uncomfortable. First, don’t sweat the pulling away. 90% of the time it has nothing to do with you and every to do with who’s around. Middle schoolers are trying to become more independent and get embarrassed when mom tries to give hugs around their peers. This will pass so just be sensitive to what might embarrass them and what doesn’t.
But something does change when they hit this “stage.” So you are going to have to evaluate how you showed love and what worked in the past to see if the message is getting through. What you need to be asking yourself as a parent is: If someone asked my kid if he or she feels loved by me, what would they say? They need to know they are loved. Don’t assume they do! They need to hear it, see it and feel it.
Am I normal?
One thing is certain about middle schoolers – everything is changing. Mentally, emotionally, and physically they are entering the on ramp to adulthood. Throw in changing schools, schedules, and add in more responsibility and this can leave a young adolescent feeling lost and alone. Every teen at one time or another feels abnormal. They are confused or uncertain about the way things are changing physically. Or they can’t get a grip on the exponential mood swings due to fluctuating hormone levels.
Adults, especially parents, must come alongside teens and normalize this experience for them, constantly reminding them of why they are going through these changes. AND that these changes are good. They are becoming adults and this is something to be celebrated!
A simple illustration that helps me empathize as I work or deal with teens is the simple picture of a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly. The whole process of transformation is concealed inside a cocoon. A caterpillar goes in a caterpillar and comes out a butterfly. Teenagers don’t get a cocoon. Nothing to hide behind or in when they feel abnormal as they go through these changes. They are out in the open for the entire world to see. So as adults let’s not trivialize this experience.
Am I competent?
Middle schoolers desperately struggle to know who they are. They will change styles, friends, and interests until they feel they “fit in.” It’s a wrestle to find identity. Discovering an area of competency is one path to solving this dilemma because competency gives one a sense of purpose and identity. Think of how men often ask one another “So, what do you do?” “I’m a lawyer,” or “I’m a teacher.” So much of our identity is wrapped up in what we are good at. Middle schoolers don’t have careers so it’s not as easy for them to explain who they are or what their purpose might be.
Help your middle schooler explore and discover his or her areas of competency. As they earn trust, give them more and more responsibility. Notice their abilities and gifting that you might encourage them. And above all, always remind them of their identity in Christ. As believers we have died and our lives are wrapped up and hidden with Christ (Colossians 3.3).
I hope this is of help! Thank you parents for the sacrifices you make for your kids.
Praying for you as you do