Tips & Tricks
Pre-Teen Connection: Eternal Connection Requires Extra Effort
-Gordon and Becki West
Pre-teens are on the go like never before. Any parent of an early adolescent knows this generation is a busy one with no shortage of activity in kids’ lives. My wife, Becki, has a placard posted on her minivan visor that reads, “Mom’s Taxi.” With so much busyness, how do we ever connect with pre-teens in spiritually significant ways?
The Need for Time
Ross Campbell, in his book, How to Really Love Your Child, says that in order to positively impact kids we must build loving relationships with them. One key element of relationship-building is focused attention.
“Focused attention is giving a child full, undivided attention in such a way that he feels without doubt that he is completely loved. That he is valuable enough in his own right to warrant undistracted watchfulness, appreciation, and uncompromising regard. In short, focused attention makes a child feel he is the most important person in the world in his parents’ [or teachers’] eyes.”
Offering focused attention isn’t easy but the payoff is worth the investment. Learn how your pre-teens spend their time and how you can fit into their schedule. You’ll gain more credibility in their lives and they’ll often be more receptive to your teaching.
The Need for Community
Today’s pre-teens balance their time between: school, sports, dance, music lessons, friends, the mall, TV and the computer. Their interests are as varied as their looks and their personalities. But the one common denominator between them is a desire for community.
When asked how her peers spend their time, one early adolescent answered, “Friends. That’s pretty much the whole thing. Friends.” Pre-teens are motivated by interaction—whether it’s on the soccer field or online. The activity is secondary to the experience of “hanging out.” Use this knowledge to build friendships with and between students.
Practical Ideas for Relating
Learn to “cyber chat.” If you have a computer with Internet access and you can type (even with one finger), you can chat online with your students. Instant messaging services are provided free by several companies, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. If you have a Facebook or other social media account already, see what chat room services they provide and use them to connect with your students during the week. All messages are “real time” (live e-conversations that occur as you sit at your computer or on your mobile device).
Promote safety while using the chatrooms—instruct your students not to chat with unknown messengers.
Show support. Attend an occasional soccer match or recital to root for your pre-teens. Better yet, bring several other students with you to watch their peers. Then take everyone out for icecream, afterward.
Ask about your pre-teens’ hobbies. Becki worked hard to connect with one quiet girl in our pre-teen youth group. When she finally discovered that the girl collected Beanie Babies, the relationship began. Becki was able to connect with the student through her interests. Don’t feel you have to be an expert on everything. Ask good questions and listen attentively.
Take students with you on errands. Need to stop by Home Depot or go grocery shopping? Invite some of your students along (always at least two of your same gender). They can help you with your to-do list while watching you live out your Faith.
Recognize the Need for Rest
Finally, realize what many parents and almost all pre-teens do not: early adolescents need time to rest and relax!
- Read to your class while students make themselves comfortable. Let them sit or recline anywhere in your room.
- Have a youth-like meeting with a mix of quiet worship songs, prayer, and sharing.
- Allow a moment of silence for a portion of each lesson. Some students need downtime to sort out their thoughts and process your lesson.
When Jesus wanted to reach the woman at the well, he sat at the well, not in the temple. To reach pre-teens with the Gospel, go the extra mile to meet them where they are, because the eternal impact you could have on your student’s life is worth the additional effort.
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