Survival Instincts

For a whole lot of my junior high ministry career, there was a whole lot about junior high behavior that really bothered me. I was bothered partly because the behavior was bothersome, and partly because I felt the pressure (mostly self induced) that if I was a good youth worker, I would be able to change the behavior of my students.  If you work with young teens, you certainly know the behavior I’m talking about:  The gossip, the teasing, the selfishness, the insecurity, and so on. 

 Years later, I’m still bothered by the behavior…but not as much.  Not because I know longer recognize the consequences of the way they treat each other, but because I have a better understanding of the motive behind it.  Let me explain.

The junior high years are tough (remember yours?), and most young teens find themselves, consciously or subconsciously, in survival mode.  They gossip because they think that helps them survive, they tease because it’s better to be the teaser than to be the teased. They are selfish because in order to survive middle school, they can’t afford to look out for anybody but themselves.  

Again, this probably isn’t a conscious decision (for most, they are simply survival instincts), but when you remember the physical, social, emotional and intellectual changes our students are experiencing at this age; it makes sense that behaviors like this manifest.  Shoot…behaviors like this manifest in adults who should know better!

I wonder, if instead of teaching “against” these behaviors we might find more success in focusing our efforts toward helping our students understand themselves a little better, and develop biblical “survival skills”.   Perhaps.  But today, I’m reminded that behaviors like this are a part of the human condition.  Mine, yours and the junior highers we lead.

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Kurt Johnston has been involved in junior high ministry since 1988 and is currently the junior high pastor at Saddleback Church in Southern California. He's the author of Controlled Chaos: Making Sense of Junior High Ministry and Go Team! He loves providing resources for junior high ministry almost as much as he loves junior highers themselves.