Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Let’s be honest: parenting middle school students gives you every reason to grow weary. As I’ve worked in ministries from birth through high school over the years, one of the most fascinating transitions for me to watch is always the transition to middle school. Like clockwork, these students begin to change. They become more curious, more self-focused, and more stinky! In addition, they become much more self-aware, and this is precisely the moment that you as the parent have the responsibility to not give up. God has entrusted you with this crazy tween for such a time as this.
Last winter I had the privilege of speaking at a middle school winter camp where I gave a series of talks to the students. During one of the sessions I talked about the masks we wear to try to hide who we truly are. We use our masks in an attempt to cover and avoid, but all the while God wants us to be who He created us to be: our real selves. Then we handed each of the students a black mask and a permanent marker, and we gave them space.
I got off the stage after sharing my message and my heart began to sink. What if that was too deep? What if these middle school students weren’t actually faking it (yet)? Did my talk connect with anyone? Then I looked around. Students everywhere were writing on their masks. One by one, they began to stand, walk over, and drop their masks at the foot of the cross. After the session ended and the students cleared out, I walked over to the pile of masks and began to read the responses—I was blown away.
“Sports,” “video games,” and “fitting in” were all common responses, but as I dug further I read, “I hurt my family because I am hurting.” I was speechless. I invited these students to be real and they were just that.
Helping students open up takes time. It takes vulnerability from us as adults, and it takes work to create an environment where students feel safe enough to share. But it is truly our responsibility to not grow weary, to continue to ask, to invite them to share, and to create space so our middle school students can become more of who God has created them to be.
Sometimes asking students questions is fruitless, but this month, commit to not giving up. Continue to ask questions that are open-ended, engaging, and pointed.
“What are things that make you come alive?”
“Where are places you feel like you have to hide who you really are?”
If we remain faithful, I believe that one day we will reap a harvest with our children as they have meaningful encounters with God and are forever changed.