Did you know that once your child or grandchild ends 5th grade, you have only 364 weeks left to truly influence their lives? Sound like a lot? Well, when they end 11th grade you have only 52 weeks. Ask yourself, what kind of influence do you want to have on your child? The kind that makes them do chores and homework, or the kind that helps them become justice seeking, compassionate adults. I know what my answer is.
I am always disappointed and surprised when the children of our congregation become middle-schoolers and I rarely see them. I realize school and sports take over many teen’s lives, but isn’t participation in the church community as important? The Religious Education program I design for our teens stresses social justice, diversity, and compassion. I try very hard to make it not feel like school and yet so, so many of our teens don’t attend that my two teens, who I do force to come to church, are the only in attendance. (Yes, I force my kids to come to church, especially my son.) I believe Religious Education for middle and high school youth is vitally important and here’s why – they are developing emotionally. The Rethink Group and Think Orange have created phases of faith formation that children go through as they develop. Here are the phases for middle and high school youth:
Sixth Grade – The phase when there are never enough groceries, too many hormones, and a dramatic kid that needs someone to prove, “who cares.”
Faith Formation: Provoke Discovery. Your child will own their faith and value a faith community. Encourage spiritual practices. Encourage quiet time alone but continue to talk about faith together. Talk about how faith isn’t easy. Your sixth grader is changing. Your role is to affirm their personal journey.
Seventh Grade – The phase when nothing you do is cool, what they feel right now matters most, and one suddenly social kid wants to know, “Who’s going?”
Faith Formation: Provoke Discovery. Doubt arises. Home is a safe place to ask questions and explore together. Show interest in what they are exploring. Wants to know, “Who am I?” You capture their heart when you provide stability. Is motivated by acceptance. You coach their moral abilities when you affirm their value.
Eighth Grade – The phase when it is cool to have choices, it’s not cool to answer questions, and one smart kid will remind you, “yeah… I know.”
Faith Formation: Provoke Discovery. Doubt lives. Home is a safe place to ask questions and explore together. Show interest in what they are exploring. Help them own their own faith and value church community. Ask questions like: If you were them, how would you want to be treated? What is justice? What does it look like? Listen to their heart by staying available.
Ninth Grade – The phase when friendships shift, grades count, and interests change so often your teenager has to explain, “This is me now.”
Faith Formation: Fuel Passion so they continue to pursue their faith and personal mission. Keep connected to a faith community. Prioritize church relationships. Stay engaged through conversation. Use encouraging words. Connect regularly. Stay available. Adjust your plans to show up. Connect your faith to theirs through shared stories and experiences. How do you live our principles? Remind them – There’s nothing you could ever do that would make me stop loving you. Remember, you are a child of the universe. You are star stuff.
Tenth Grade – The phase when everybody else can… nobody else has to… and your resolute teen will push you to answer, “why not?”
Faith Formation: Thinks like a philosopher. You help them learn when you ask questions. Wants to know, “Why should I believe?” You capture their heart when you clarify their values. Is motivated by freedom. You coach their moral abilities when you catch them doing something good.
Eleventh Grade – The phase when there’s less drama, more stress, and your very busy teenager answers all your questions with, “Just trust me.”
Faith Formation: Fuel Passion so they continue to pursue their faith and personal mission. A faith community can give them opportunities to serve, give, and love. Stay engaged through conversation.
Twelfth Grade – The phase when your emerging adult pulls away, gets closer, does things for the last time, and you both start asking, “what’s next?”
Faith Formation: Wants to know, “What will I do?” You capture their heart when you create vision. Is motivated by freedom. You coach their moral abilities when you focus their options. A faith community can give them opportunities to serve, give, and love.