**This is a guest post from Nick Diliberto from PreteenMinistry.net
While summer is still in full swing, in just a few weeks many preteens will be back in school. The long summer days filled with swimming, snow cones, endless video game playing, the beach and staying up late will soon be gone. For preteens, back to school means experiencing lots of change and facing new challenges all at once.
Here are a few issues preteens face when going back to school and what you can do to help:
Entering middle school
For many school systems, 6th graders are entering middle school. This often means they are grouped with 7th & 8th graders, which can be quite overwhelming for many reasons. First, they went from being the oldest group to the youngest group. They get picked on because they’re younger, and often feel the need to prove themselves to older students. Second, the hormones are in full swing for many. Girls tend to be more aggressive towards boys, and boys are now interested in girls. It’s a whole new ballgame! Third, students in middle school can be really mean to each other. Girls gossip and spread rumors about classmates and boys tend to be physically abusive to each other.
What can you do? Offer a Preparing for Adolescence class for 6th graders. Equip them to deal with the specific issues they’re facing. Offer the class in a small group setting so they have a safe place to share their struggles, encourage one another and pray for each other.
For many, the summer is spent with friends and family. Back to school means a lot more interaction with a larger number of peers. The need for peer approval is heightened. Students want to be cool and seek approval from classmates, which often leads to poor decision-making.
What can you do? Peer pressure is a common preteen issue. They seek out the approval of their classmates, often without even realizing it. Consider doing a “Back to School” series in August or September. Provide an outlet for students to share their struggles and offer guidance on how to make good decisions from a Biblical perspective. Also, be intentional about creating positive peer pressure within your preteen ministry. Create an environment where preteens are free to be themselves. A place where encouragement flourishes, good life decisions are applauded, and following Jesus is the norm. Once those values are in a group’s DNA, preteens will positively influence others within the group.
Preteens are back to the grind. Overnight, their schedule fills up. They now wake up early, go to school, do homework and have an early bedtime. On top of that, many are involved in other activities, like: sports, dancing, drama, art, etc. Preteens are busy! Stress, burnout, fatigue and anxiety are common. Furthermore, the entire family unit is affected by the change in the routine. Everyone is on edge and overwhelmed.
What can you do? Let me first say what not to do – overschedule your fall programs. It’s tempting, but not helpful to the family unit. This approach adds to the craziness – another activity on the already full calendar. So, what can you do? Teach the importance of contemplative spirituality (don’t use that word with students). Contemplative spirituality involves simple practices like: journaling, prayer, worship, reflection, reading the Bible and asking God to speak, sitting quietly listening for God’s voice, unplugging from media, creating a piece of art that reflects God’s goodness, etc. Do these practices in your services giving preteens an opportunity to experiment with them. They’ll discover which ones they like most. Then, encourage students to interact with God throughout the week using those practices. Contemplative spirituality relieves stress, connects preteens to God, adds a sense of God’s peace throughout the day, and subdues anxiety associated with a busy life.
Nick Diliberto is the creator of PreteenMinistry.net, which provides creative curriculum and resources for preteen ministry. He is also the preteen columnist for Children’s Ministry Magazine.