As parents, we become aware of our own new needs each time our eldest child enters a new season of life. The preteen years are no different. Family-friendly church leaders will proactively address these real and felt needs for parents as kids enter the preteen and young teen years (ages 10 to 14):
New friends. Parents of preteens want to know other parents going through this same confusing transition. They also want to know the parents of their child’s friends to see what kinds of influences they are receiving from their peers. Socials involving preteens and parents (even if just held on a Sunday morning in the youth room) are welcome events for these parents.
Tips on understanding preteens. Parents who sought your guidance as their children first entered school will be ready for more information as their first child grows towards puberty. Find a variety of non-threatening ways to share information on:
- Dealing with mood swings, challenges to authority, and what to expect in the future.
- Understanding the differences between childhood, early adolescence, and the teen years.
- Specifics about the church programs to be offered in the immediate and coming teen years.
Skills for talking about sexuality and drugs. Just because we all hear that these are parental responsibilities doesn’t mean that today’s parents are any more ready to have these “awkward” discussions with their own kids. In fact, in some ways it’s more difficult today, because kids already know so much and have a mixture of true and false messages to wade through. Parents want to know how to handle these touchy topics in ways that their kids will respect and respond to appropriately. Instead of the church taking over the parents’ job, provide training, resources and encouragement to handle the responsibility themselves.
Models of spiritual leadership in the home. Preteen parents realize they don’t have many years left with their children under their roof. Life decisions are becoming more and more critical. Provide opportunities for parents to be with mature, godly couples who are “further along” in their parenting. Also give parents ways to model their faith before their own kids at church. Involve preteen parents in preteen ministry. Design ways for families to serve together: team-teaching in a preschool classroom, co-leading a portion of the all-church worship service or a youth group meeting, doing service projects together, or ministering to another family in need.
Time as a family. Today’s church does such a good job of programming for each individual age group, that church becomes a time to separate family members from each other. At this developmental stage, parents are hungry for ways to connect with their kids in positive activities. Most don’t want more reasons to be separated.
In How to Really Love Your Teenager, Ross Campbell warns that “as children enter adolescence, they need more time with family, not less. It is so easy to assume that since teens are rapidly becoming more independent and seem to want more and more time away from the family, that you should spend less and less time with them. This is one of the most devastating mistakes parents make today.”
Let’s not repeat this mistake at church! Think about all the different activities you do for preteens and consider which ones could be family events where you do the same activity but invite the whole family. Or…here’s a radical concept…which ones could be cancelled so families could stay home (including yours)?
Many churches are just coming on board for preteens. Many churches are just connecting with family ministries popularized by the Orange Conference and many others. Let’s make sure our preteen ministries are marrying these two movements in family-based preteen ministry.
This is part 3 of “Parents & Preteen Ministry” based in part on excerpts from our book Preteen Ministry Smart Pages, Chapter 14 “Reaching Out to the Whole Family” (Gospel Light Publishing). Copies are available at a reduced rate from KidZ At Heart International (resources@kidZatheart.org) and proceeds from all purchases help fund missions to kids around the world.