The In-Between Years

No longer a child, not yet a teenager. Why this stage is as confusing for your child as it is for you.

Nikki is 11 years old, and in sixth grade, but she looks more like a 16-year-old.

Nikki still loves to play with Barbie dolls. In fact, it's not uncommon for her to bring a few with her on youth group trips. The other kids tease her about it—but she's naive enough to think that they think it's fun that Barbie is in tow.

Then there was the group of guys I called the "Punk Pokémons." They were five eighth grade guys—all taller than me—who were trying very hard to be tough. They never smiled. Never. They were 100 percent committed to being disinterested.

But I'd often find them gathered in the back corner of our junior high room at church trading Pokémon cards like little kids. It was hilarious to see the snarling wannabe tough guys saying things like, "I'll give you two Pikachus for one Mewtwo."

If you ask me to define the young teen years in one word, I'd have to use the word transition. Everything about the world of a young teen is rooted somewhere between where they've been and where they're headed. As parents, it's essential that we look for signs of the changes that are taking place in our children and do our best to offer loving support, reassurance, and guidance.

The transition from child to teenager impacts every area of a young teen's life, including her faith. Faith-bit by faith-bit, she begins the search—sometimes consciously and proactively, sometimes not—for a richer, more complex, more adult faith system. Much of this is accomplished through experimentation.

What often trips up the parents I work with is the seeming randomness of this experimentation. For example, your young teen might show less interest in church, but more interest in spiritual things. By spiritual things, I don't necessarily mean youth group retreats and the church children's choir. For young teens, spirituality means everything from prayer to walks in the woods to the very idea of God.

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May 25

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