While it is true that today’s preteens must face many challenges not seen by previous generations (and more intense versions of many of those that were present), I believe there is one cultural omission that overshadows all the rest. Today’s culture does not provide preteens with significant, involved adult leaders.
Preteens are resilient and can weather almost any challenge. For a great discussion of six of the most prevalent ones (divorce, drinking, drugs, despair, depression and death), I recommend a blog posted recently by Kevin Wilhelm at http://beyondpreteens.wordpress.com/. Kevin calls these the Six D’s, and while all six are truly destructive, most preteens can survive them…if given healthy interaction with mature parents and adult leaders.
Unfortunately, adults in Western culture typically give preteens little or no leadership. Preteens get lots of adult attention, but very little leadership. Too much of the wrong kind of attention amounts to nothing more than over-indulgence. Being spoiled feels good for the moment, but it doesn’t provide anything of substance to use in overcoming real-life challenges.
Ross Campbell tells us that “focused attention is the most demanding need a teenager (or preteen) has. Most parents (and other adults ) have real difficulty recognizing this need, much less fulfilling it….Other things they do for their teenagers – favors, gifts and granting unusual requests – seem to substitute for focused attention at the time….This substitution is tempting…, because favors and gifts are easier to give, and take much less time. But teenagers do not do their best, do not feel their best, and do not behave their best unless they receive that precious commodity – focused attention from their parents” (How to Really Love Your Teenager, Victor Books). This statement is equally true for early adolescents, 10- to 14-year olds, and the adult leaders in their lives.
Even in the church, preteen ministry often becomes a place where we are afraid to tell kids how to deal with life. When did it become a problem to tell a 10-year-old how to behave? Preteen ministry should be incredibly active and fun, but entertainment must not replace guidance and adult leadership. Preteen years are frightening and confusing. Early adolescents won’t tell you this, but they deeply long for someone to tell them what to do and how to live!
So how can parents and church leaders help preteens survive today’s culture?
- Have standards. Don’t be afraid to tell preteens the difference between right and wrong. It’s okay to have rules and expectations. In fact, realistic boundaries help preteens feel secure and loved. Preteens want you to lead.
- Act like an adult. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, preteens know you’re not “cool” (even if you think you are) but they love you anyway. What they want is an adult who will love and lead them!
- Be patient. Know that preteens will be preteens. They’re testing their wings, experimenting with new freedoms, making mistakes and being emotionally turbulent. Take it all in stride and the preteen will continue coming back to you for answers and guidance. Being readily available and providing plenty of unconditional love earns you the right to lead the preteen.
It’s time for parents of preteens and preteen ministry leaders to LEAD.