When I first decided I wanted to be a teacher I thought I would be teaching kids in high school, older kids. From teaching, to coaching, mentoring to pastoring, somehow the heartbeat of what I do is surrounded by middle schoolers. They are a different breed of kid; energetic, emotional, inquisitive and heartfelt. Nothing motivates a middle schooler like candy, pizza and a trip to a trampoline park. Middle schoolers have a few years of the in-between. They have changing characteristics physically, socially and emotionally that range from young kids to mature teenagers. I have grown found of my younger friends and before working with them you should know a few things.
A huge part of the life of a middle schooler is how social they are. Many are asking themselves questions like, who do I like and where do I fit in? They are surrounded by peers, that can sometimes feel like a revolving door of friends. You will see them sitting in groups and discovering what group they want to be a part in. There will be gossip, drama and hurt feelings. They are influenced by their friends, for both good and bad. Often they will make choices on being cool to their friends then smart choices. Sometimes, we still do that as adults. Social media plays a huge role for them. They strive to stay connected at all times, but somehow this connection isn’t enough. As an adult working with middle schoolers and observing this I often ask them questions. Help them understand how other people can help them and how they can help others. Connect them to others, help them feel welcome and stick by them even in the “you did what?!” moments.
Hand in hand with the social life a middle schooler has is the emotional life they live. Emotions are often at a constant flux. There is almost always some sort of drama with peers, siblings or family. Physically they are going under a lot of changes, so too emotionally. Middle schoolers are learning coping skills, anger management skills and techniques to help them self regulate their emotions. One of the biggest things I do for middle schoolers is allow them to write stuff down. It helps them to process what is going on and allows them to see for themselves what is causing their current emotional state. In the world of a middle school student, nothing is consistent, as an adult in their life that is where you come in. You are their consistency in the midst of the hurricane. Help them process what is going on emotionally, be a role model to them in how you handle your own emotions and the struggles in the world. Sometimes telling them “life is tougher, but you’re tougher” is all they need. One of the biggest pieces of advice I give to leaders working with students is to stay cool and breezy on the outside and freak out if you need to on the inside.
With all the questions a middle school asks many start to wonder who exactly they are. They go through phases of styles, friends and hobbies. As an adult in the life of middle schooler I believe our role is to support them in their journey and help them discover their identity, not force them into one. Asking them questions and supporting them helps them discover who they are so they can help understand where they belong. Call out the things you see that are truth in their life, the things you see that bring them joy and happiness and allow them to flourish. Connect them to others on the same journey, walk alongside them for awhile and you’ll learn something about life too.
Middle schoolers are passionate, inquisitive and awesome people. They have the innocence of younger children with glimpses of wisdom of people older than you. Through the whirlwind of these few years stay close but don’t push. Ask a lot of questions, call out the wonder you see in them and challenge them when they do something they shouldn’t.