In the past week I’ve become aware of a few of our students who are really hurting. I spent time with one of them yesterday. I picked him up from school and I immediately knew something was wrong. When I asked him, he initially said that nothing was wrong. When I pushed further, the reality came out. Over the course of the next hour we got to unpack some of his struggles.
It’s not often that we can get a middle school guy to open up. Because of this, many youth pastors believe (wrongly) that middle school guys just don’t have that much going on inside. If you talk to parents of middle school guys they will share stories of their sons’ emotional outbursts and roller coasters. We would describe middle school guys as being unemotional or a-motional, but it’s simply not true.
I want all youth pastors who work with middle school guys to reject this stereotype and help middle school guys express their emotions in a healthy, God-honoring way.
Middle school guys’ emotions are real and intense. Youth workers are adults who survived middle school and face big life problems every day. As adults we tend to think that middle school problems aren’t that big of a deal compared to what we deal with. We easily diminish how intense and real the emotions of middle schoolers are. When middle school guys finally open up you realize the opposite is true. When a middle school guy breaks up with a girlfriend of just two weeks it’s still a traumatic experience that affects them emotionally. We need to acknowledge that our guys have more going on inside than they let on.
Middle school guys need permission to express emotions. It isn’t a new thought that our society pressures guys to hide their emotions. In middle school expressing emotions for guys is seen as a weakness that will be exploited or made fun of. As pastors, we need to remind them that emotions are God-given and expressing those emotions is a normal part of life. Are you giving them that message? Are you providing a safe place for guys to open up?
Middle school guys need help identifying their emotions. Brad, now a 25 year old, was a middle schooler playing in a soccer game. I remember him running off the field and immediately bursting into tears. I could tell this this was altogether confusing to him. Most middle school guys don’t know what they are feeling inside. They just know that they are feeling something intense.
Mark Oestreicher reminds us that in early adolescence our emotional color palette is growing in complexity. Middle school guys need help painting with all these new colors. We need to show them how to tell the difference between anger, frustration, bitterness, anxiety, fear and so on. They can learn how to express them in a healthy, God-honoring way only when they know what their emotions really are.
I hope I’ve challenged you to think differently about the middle school guys in your ministry. They are deeper and more emotional than most people give them credit for. They deserve to be taken seriously.
I am far from an expert on this subject. For a more in depth look check out the book “Middle School Ministry” by Mark Oestreicher and Scott Rubin.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.theyouthministryblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/LibickHawaiiChristmasPhoto.jpeg[/author_image] [author_info]Kevin Libick is a Middle School Pastor living in Fort Worth, TX with his wife Kara and her two cats. He is a novice banjo picker and expert Hawaiian food eater. Kevin loves to connect with other youth workers and equip them to live out their calling in God’s Kingdom. Connect with Kevin on Twitter: @kevinlibick[/author_info] [/author]