Our students have to deal with a changing body and changing circumstances in their life. One of the biggest changes in a junior high students life is in the area of relationships. As they mature in years the balance between family and friends begins to change which can cause a great deal of uncertainty in their lives.
Students will stop communicating with their parents about the most important issues in their lives, and begin to hold it inside or only share it with their friends. To better understand this situation let me explain it in a different way. These students stop sharing their problems with people who have experienced these same issues and begin trusting and sharing with friends who are struggling with the same issues themselves.
This can lead to a great deal of pain for students. When a student trusts a friend that doesn’t have the experience or answers to help them out they are setting their selves up for emotional and physical pain. This pain can multiply in their lives as they start to feel alone. In many situations when a trusted friend gives bad advice then the student in need doesn’t know where to turn.
When students get to this point of feeling alone they are tempted to seek out ways to help them move away from the pain they are feeling. Sometimes they try to replace the pain with another form of physical pain, or they seek a great feeling of pleasure to replace their pain. Students reach out for anything that can make them feel different than they currently do. Students will start cutting, stretching sexual boundaries, and experimenting with drugs and alcohol to change the way they feel.
What can parents do to help?
Long before students get to this point of all these changes let them know that they are loved no matter what. Parents can show children that they are accepted for who they are and loved unconditionally by God, Mom and Dad.
Parents need to spend time talking with students about the different roles people will play in their relationships. Help students define who they can really trust. This is not a time to argue with them because they need to know that their parents are their to help them through this process.
Parents have to be parents. Parents have to make decision for their children, but as parents we can also communicate why we need to make the decisions we do. This conversation can be the difference between a child that no longer trusts and wants to share their feelings with their parents and a child who looks to their parents for guidance and help.
3. Set Boundaries
As the parent there have to be boundaries that we set for junior high students. These students need to experience responsibility. The need to be able to make decisions and mistakes for themselves, but as parents we still need to decide when it is safe and appropriate for our child to have these responsibilities.
What can we do as youth leaders?
1. Encourage Honesty
Too many students hide secrets for their friends. When a student is in pain and they share that with a friend. That friend doesn’t always know when it is ok and necessary to break that trust. As leaders we should never promise to keep a secret. We have to make the choices that are best for the health and well being of the student. We need to encourage other students to take the same stance.
2. Partner with Parents
As youth leaders many times we focus so much on the students that we forget that parents have more time and influence with these students than we do. We need to build relationships of trust with parents. It is a disappointing time when a family in your ministry is going through a difficult time and they don’t feel comfortable contacting you for assistance. We need to be available and ready to share the love of Jesus.
This sounds like the church answer, but it is obviously the most important in this list. We must pray for our students. Parents, friends, and youth leaders all have a great impact on junior high students, but none of us can work in a students life the way God can. We need to talk to God and encourage students and families to do the same.