One-Word Definition for Young Teens

Kara Powell | Jan 17, 2012

I was so pleased to have the chance to read (well, at least thoroughly skim) Mark Oestreicher‘s new Understanding Your Young Teen: Practical Wisdom for Parents book. Marko from The Youth Cartel has been a long-time friend (and even been my former boss; yes, I can tell some stories, but I won’t because he can too) and part of what I loved about reading the book is that his voice and wisdom shine through so clearly.

In this and in tomorrow’s blog, I’m going to excerpt and comment on some of my favorite parts of the book - parts that are helpful to me as a parent of a fifth grader, and I hope will be helpful to you as a youth leader or parent of young teens or even older teens.

The first is Marko’s one-word definition for middle schoolers. According to Marko, when he asks parents and leaders to define young teens in one word, some of the answers he gets back are: stressed, immature, confused, impossible, fun, potential, emerging, spontaneous, and unpredictable.

None of those are un-true, but Marko’s best one-word definition for the young teen experience is “change”. I’ll admit I’m biased because that is also my best one-word definition, but nonetheless, as Marko says well, “The life of a middle schooler is all about change. As previously noticed, it’s the second most significant period of change in the human lifespan.”

If you know a young teen, this isn’t a surprise to you. You know that they are undergoing monumental internal, developmental changes (e.g., cognitive, physical, relational, spiritual).

Interestingly, one of the things we have learned during our Sticky Faith Cohorts is that change is hard. Even when it’s a good change, even when it’s a change you (or someone else) wants to make, it’s still hard. As Dr. Scott Cormode at Fuller regularly reminds our Sticky Faith Churches, “Change involves loss.”

When we look at the 12 or 14 year-olds (and maybe even 16 and 18 year-olds) around us, it can seem like they are gaining so much. In the case of young teens, they are gaining new freedoms, social skills, intellectual abilities, and even faith experiences. Yet they are also losing something: they are losing some of the simplicity of their earlier childhood, some of the lack-of-stress that comes from not paying attention to social dynamics, and even some of the confusion that comes from trying to juggle two or more thoughts simultaneously (especially when those are abstract thoughts).

I see this in my own son. As he moves into young adolescence, he is gaining so much, and yet with that gain comes additional stress.

As I initially wrote that, I was thinking about his stress. But adolescence does bring some new stressors into Dave’s and my life. Don’t get me wrong: I’m looking forward to being a parent of teenagers. But I know it will be draining.

So maybe my one-word definition for young teens should be expanded to three: Change. Gains. Loss.

Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.


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