Preteens: A Whole New World

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Preteens. They’re silly, goofy, and obnoxious. They can’t sit
still and seldom pay attention. They love screaming and doing
anything that involves getting messy. And that’s just scratching
the surface of their awesomeness. So what’s the best way to help
teach these amazing kids about God? Let’s start by looking at
what’s happening to them developmentally.

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Preteen development can be summed up in one word:
change. As preteens enter early
adolescence, they experience incredible change. They change
physically, emotionally, socially, and even-are you ready for
this?-intellectually. That’s right! These crazy beings of highly
explosive energy and terribly short attention spans are actually
gaining the capacity to be more intelligent. In his book
Developmentally Appropriate: Middle Level Schools, M. Lee
Manning says, “During early adolescence, youth typically progress
from concrete logical operations and problem solving to acquiring
the ability to develop and test hypotheses, analyze and synthesize
data, grapple with complex concepts, and think reflectively.”

This intellectual increase has a direct effect on
something else that’s changing: their faith.
As preteens
gain the ability to analyze, hypothesize, and reflect, they ask
deeper questions about God, the Bible, and Jesus. Rather than
blindly accepting their parents’ and ministers’ answers, they yearn
to understand faith for themselves. In other words, they take their
first steps from faith dependence (relying on what others tell them
to believe) to faith ownership.

As they take those first steps, we can expect preteens to learn
and grow differently than they did as first, second, and third
graders. No longer are they happy to take what we tell them at face
value, simply swallowing what we feed them. Instead, they want to
experience, test, and interact with that faith on their own. And
it’s up to us to “let go” and allow them do so.

Preteens need our direction and influence. Rather than simply
teaching preteens by providing the right information, we support
them by allowing them to learn for themselves. Rather than telling
preteens how their faith affects their life, we create environments
and resources where they can discover it. Instead of giving them
all the answers about God, Jesus, the Bible, and the rest of life,
we invite them to grapple with their questions and even offer
answers. Instead of telling them what they should do, we create
opportunities to discover what God calls them to do.

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Preteens truly are a special age, unlike any other. Yes, they can
be crazy, overwhelming, and even exhausting at times. But to watch
a preteen, for the first time on his or her own, truly comprehend
who Jesus is and what he’s done for us is unlike any other ministry
experience. So who cares if we get a little messy in the process?
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Patrick Snow works as the director of
SuperStart!, a national touring weekend event for preteens. Through
SuperStart! Patrick teaches and speaks to over 9,000 preteens each
year. Patrick is the author of
Leading Preteens and
co-founder of fourfivesix.org.

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