Last weekend I was in Long Beach, WA to run the sound system for our church’s Jr. High Winter Retreat. As I peered across the auditorium of 12 to 14 year olds I saw a bunch of kids that looked like they were 8, a bunch more that looked like they were 17, and a few that looked their age.
Most everyone agrees, Jr. High is the most difficult and awkward stage in life. You stand in your circle of friends where one has awful acne and is just entering puberty, another is a pro and started puberty 3 years ago, and you’re simply praying and hoping to God that you start puberty this year so you’re not left out.
What other time in life do you have one set of girls wearing stickers on their faces with $2 lipgloss from Claire’s and laughing about the newest iCarly episode, and another set of girls wearing $20 eyeliner with $30 mascara, chatting about who slept with who in last week’s Gossip Girl show?
This is where two worlds really collide. Childhood, meet semi-adulthood.
We each have memories of when the big rock of childhood crashed into the big rock of adulthood—and for most of us, it’s also probably when we began to lose our innocence. It was when our addiction to Disney’s The Lion King transitioned into begging our parents to let us watch Fargo because all of our friends were talking about it.
As I sat in the back of the room running sound, watching all of these students interact, I tried to remember life at this age. It’s kind of shocking. In 7th grade, I cussed regularly, had my first cigarette followed shortly thereafter by my first chew (smokeless tobacco). 8th grade was entrance into smoking weed, and it all went downhill after that. I even had friends that were having sex with their girlfriends on a regular basis when we were all twelve years old! And talking about it was totally normal! I looked at some of the youth group kids and wondered, Was I really that small when all this was happening in my life?
Spending 48 hours observing these awesome young people worship their Creator, weep over their sin, and pray with leaders for healing, was so eye-opening for me. I remembered what it was like to be that age—how difficult and awkward it is. The pressures I faced, the things I saw, the things I did. Unfortunately, I had forgotten—or at least not consciously connected the two. These kids, trying to be adults, are all going through the same crap I did.
Being an adult helping students you often lose sight of what it’s like to be one. When I was a teenager I never thought my parents or pastors understood what I was going through, and these Jr. Highers probably think the same thing about me. We’ve all obviously been there, but do we ever stop to think and remember what it was actually like?
If you work with younger kids, teach them, or are a parent to one, please take some time to go back to age 13… Recall specific experiences, relive those awkward moments and bouts with peer pressure. Teens get a list of rules, are told what to do or not do, what to watch or not watch. They need much more than our rules, they need our empathy. They need to hear our stories and know that what they are facing is normal, and that we’re here to love them through. As adults it’s our job to tell this younger generation they are good enough, and that they are going to make it. They need to hear those encouraging words: We made it, you will too!
These young people in our paths are now on their own rocky roads. Thankfully the Lord has put us in positions to share our own awkward wrecks in an effort to gracefully guide them into the (hopefully) glorious inevitable.