First of all, let me clarify what I consider a preteen: a 9-12 year old or 4th-6th grader. Some consider 13-14 year old to be a preteen. However, from a developmental standpoint, 13-14 year olds are more accurately early adolescent or young teens. Enough said.
As preteens hit 11 & 12 years old, they are quickly approaching the teen years. It’s critical they’re prepared. If not, they’ll get blindsided in junior high or middle school, where they’ll face lots of external pressure and temptations. They’ll face drugs, sex, drinking, self-esteem doubts, faith re-evaluation, online bullying, social media access, and a host of others. Preteens also experience HUGE amounts of internal developmental changes in the following areas: social, physical, spiritual, & emotional. The amount of external pressure & internal change can be quite overwhelming for both parents & preteens.
So what can leaders do to help prepare both preteens & parents for the teen years? Here are a two ideas:
Offer a Preparing for Adolescence small group and use the resources written by James Dobson as your guide. Whether you are a Dobson fan or not, the resources he provides are superb. Everything you need is available for purchase: family guide, group guide, book, and CD pack. Get them all or pick & choose what you want. It is recommended you split up boys and girls. I’ve offered this class for 6th graders at the end of the school year before they enter junior high. It’s always been a HUGE hit! Preteens are equipped. Parents are informed. If you only have 4th/5th graders, maybe you could offer it to exiting 5th graders. It all depends on how your preteen ministry is structured. You’ll want to do a lot of communication with parents when offering the group (course covers some sensitive subjects), which brings me to the next point.
2. Offer parents support & community.
Communicate with parents about the internal & external issues preteens face now and what’s around the corner in the early teen years. Many are probably aware of the external issues their preteens are about to face. But some aren’t and many need to be given a reminder. They need to know what cyber bullying is and that their preteens will soon want to get on Facebook. Just around the corner for some and already there for others. They need to know the internal changes preteens are experiencing and what they’ll experience as an early teen. Parents want to be educated. Next, provide them with community. They often struggle alone with parenting preteens. But it can be very helpful when they are given an opportunity to connect with other parents. Together, they’ll be able to help preteens navigate the upcoming years ahead. They’ll also make some new friends and provide each other with a prayer network. Experiment with different ways of offering support & community: a quarterly or monthly meeting for parents, form a Facebook group with discussion & helpful posts, yearly parenting seminar, preteen retreat for families, etc. Experiment some and find out what works best in your environment.
No doubt, the teen years can be tough. But with adequate preparation, both preteens and parents can be equipped for the years ahead.