Have you ever had a middle-schooler tell you about losing all of her friends, or that she doesn’t think she can keep on living? Have you ever had a young boy share with you his dark secret about how he has hair on parts of his body he’s never had before? What about the phone call from concerned parents telling you their son doesn’t believe in God anymore? There’s so much going on in a middle-schooler’s life, and we have the privilege to impact that life if we dare. Sometimes middle-schoolers want to be children and sometimes they want to be treated like adults. They haven’t quite left childhood but haven’t quite made it into teen life—they’re “tweenagers,” a term I first read in an old book called Too Young to Drive, Too Old to Ride by Gary & Angela Hunt.
Important to anyone impacting a tweenager is an understanding of some of their basic needs. I’ve put them together under a silly acronym I use to help remember these basic needs—ASSAIL. The word ASSAIL also helps me remember that a tweenager’s life can really feel like they are constantly being assailed in so many ways.
Acceptance—The need for acceptance will sometimes outweigh the need to do what’s right in a tweenager’s life.
Security—The tweenager’s” life is in constant flux. They’re changing almost daily in all parts of their life (physically, mentally, and spiritually). They need to feel safe with the environment they’re in while they’re going through these changes.
Spirituality—They’re working out their own faith. They need to be with people who will allow them to ask questions, and even push back against what they’ve been taught, so they can start to personally understand those teachings.
Achievement—They need to feel they can accomplish things. Feeling successful can make all the difference in how a tweenager grows.
Integrity—They need authenticity in the lives of those around them. They need to see honest, moral, biblical lives lived out in front of them—not perfect lives, just role models living out their faith.
Love –They need to be taught and modeled what intimacy really is. Because of the changes that are happening in their lives they often get love and sex confused. This confusion can lead to disastrous actions or incredible opportunities.
Tweenagers are some of God’s most wonderfully frustrating people. But if we’re willing to journey with them as they’re being ASSAILed, their lives will be completely changed.
Mark Eades is the middle school pastor at New Covenant Bible Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.