We kicked off our Fall series for Echo Middle School last Sunday, where we are trying to help prepare our students for the challenges they will face this school year. We welcomed a new batch of 6th graders that will brave the wild hallways of Mercer or Stone Hill for the first time, many of which were a little bit intimidated. I think it is easy for adults to forget how tough middle school really is. In middle school, we are faced with teachers that know very little about us because they only have us for one hour per day. We are faced with enormous amounts of social pressure and social changes as cliques are formed and friend groups are tested and established. We are faced with physical changes as we are hit with the curse of unwanted and unwelcome hormones. The opposite sex has always had “cooties,” but now we are starting to notice their “booties.” What adult can forget the “fashion anxiety” we experienced for the first time when “fitting in” became a major priority. Add to this the massive amounts of homework and the academic pressure. It seems as if some things you face in middle school are very much adult while what we really want is to still be a kid.
Our new series is focusing on the challenges that students face during adolescence. There are three tasks in the adolescent journey, and every student is seeking to settle these issues in some way:
1. IDENTITY – Who am I and who do I want to be? What defines me? What do I want to be known for?
2. BELONGING – Where do I fit? Who is in my “tribe?” Whose opinions and acceptance matter to me?
3. AUTONOMY – Do I and my choices matter? What am I all about? Do I have a purpose, a reason for being? How to I establish a voice and opinions that are uniquely my own? How do I find independence?
Throughout this series, we will address these questions and dare students to find the answers in Christ and God’s Kingdom. Parents, especially if this is your first teenager, pay attention to these three issues because they will serve as a road map for much of the conflict and drama of the adolescent journey. Fights about curfew and cell phone usage are rooted in their quest for autonomy. The reason they are now embarrassed to be seen with you has everything to do with their quest for belonging in a teenage “tribe.” The reason haircuts, fashion, music, shoes, etc. start to matter so much is because these are avenues of searching and expression in their quest to establish identity.
The big issue spiritually for the teen years, and the one we focus on in ECHO, is whether or not each student will be the influenced or the influencer. As they search this out and navigate the challenges of their teen years, will they go with the flow or will they step out as agents of change for God’s Kingdom? This is a huge challenge, but I have seen so many students step up and into it that I have hope for each of our students. Middle School is tough, but they can actually thrive there and not just survive.