From swapping gummy-bears at lunch to swapping gossip. From boy cooties to boy cuties. From Disney Channel to MTV.
Elementary to Middle School.
One of the most dramatic transitions in a girl’s life.
And youth ministers have a beautiful privilege, yet terrifying responsibility to work with this scary specimen.
Middle school girls.
Let me just get real with you. I was a middle school girl, and I still don’t understand them! And because I don’t understand them, I find myself glossing over the importance of reaching out to them.
But when I look back at mile-marker moments in my faith, one of the most influential markers came from a youth intern named Amanda. Amanda loved on my awkward 12-year-old heart. She threw slumber parties for my friends and me, listened to my drama and hugged me every time I walked through the church doors. Though I can’t remember much advice she gave me, I remember this.
Amanda was a safe place.
Amidst my hormonal, insecure, confused middle-school storm, she was a refuge reminding me that it was okay to be myself. Even if that reminder only lasted five minutes until my peers walked in the door, letting in the rain of judgmental glances, hail of clicks and lightning bolts of perverted jokes, I now see that those five minutes of safety stretched into a lifetime. Because I still remember Amanda. I still remember the refuge reminder. Those five minutes changed my life.
Will you be a safe place for a middle school girl? It’s okay if you don’t understand her or have many words to give. The storm will rage on regardless. But to know that around you she can giggle like a little girl again, wear sweats and a t-shirt, even burp out loud and not be judged, is one of the most valuable gifts you can offer her.
Now, that may sound sweet and all, but maybe you are in a position where you are ready for some tangible help. If that’s you, I went ahead and wrote down some ideas to help you build richer relationships with middle school girls.
What is the best way to reach them?
Target. Pinpoint some primary issues and insecurities within the middle school girls in your youth group. Instead of stereotyping them, why not take some time to investigate individual problems they are wrestling with? This gives you a better understanding of what they are facing so that you can be intentional within your individual conversations with them and within your preparation time for Sunday morning messages, devotionals, small group discussions, etc.
You can take the emotional temperature of the middle school girls in your youth group through a variety of way. Through conversations, all-girl small groups, asking involved female volunteers, and even a simple survey hand-out, you can get a better idea of what the girls in your youth group are specifically experiencing.
Some of the issues many middle school girls are facing today:
Independence from the family
Gossip and bullying
Body image insecurities
A heaving media influence – magazines, T.V. and internet
Boys are cute for the first time
Talk. This is the primary period in life where girls go from playing together to talking together. I know for some male youth ministers, talking is not the most natural way to build a bond, but it’s beyond important to converse with middle school girls. It doesn’t have to be a long conversation. Maybe it’s a few words. But talking is how they connect. Of course, for male pastors this comes with understandable boundaries – talk in public places, maybe with a female youth volunteer present.
More than likely, she is closing up to mom and dad, so to have an adult in her life that she feels comfortable opening up to has the potential to keep her on track with the truth of God. You may be the only one who is speaking words of encouragement and love to her. Girls soak up this kind of verbal affirmation after a hard week of gossip, lies and backstabbing.
Some conversation topics:
Friends – who are they, what do they do for fun, why are they her friends
Boys – what do her parents tell her about dating, do her friends date, what are her thoughts on dating
School – what is her favorite class, what is her favorite activity/sport she is involved in
Family – is she more like mom or dad, does she feel close to her parents, how is her relationship with siblings
Self – does she feel accepted, are there parts of herself she does not like, what are her favorite parts of her self
God – how is she feeling about him these days, what is her relationship like with him, questions she has
So, are you ready? Let’s be an Amanda to an awkward twelve-year-old girl. Be a safe place amidst the middle-school storm.