One of the hardest transitional years is 6th grade! For many 6th grade is one of the most complex and awkward years in the life. Many parents even find this year as the most complex! Many educators have different perspectives on 6th grade students. Is a 6th grade student a young burgeoning teenager or are they in the final moments of their young childhood? Some school districts like 6th grade to be part of the elementary school, choosing the “junior-high” route with a separated 7th and 8th grade. Other school districts prefer them with the 7th and 8th grade students calling it middle school.
I also notice that many churches tend to struggle with this idea. I have served as a student pastor in both capacities. When a student pastor approaches me about whether or not 6th grade should be part of their student ministry, I always encourage them to reflect their community.
Nonetheless, this is not always simple. Some students develop early in 6th grade. Consequently, they struggle to maintain relationships with their peers. Other students develop late, and similarly they struggle to relate and feel left behind. The parents have a similar experience, because they want to pursue success for their children, but they don’t always know what is best.
In the follow article I want to present parents with some ideas for helping their rising 6th graders to transition. Over the last 10 years, I have observed students and parents of students. No, I have not personally parented a teenager yet, but as an observer and researcher, I have the unique perspective. These ideas are both theoretical and practical. Theoretical, in that they give the reasons and intent behind the idea, but also practical because it should aid in the parenting and discipling of your child.
- They Will Become Independent
I have heard this phrase so often, “It’s like aliens came and took my sweet boy and left me with this monster.” Now, the parents usually don’t mean this as harsh as it sounds, but their bewilderment is normal. Within a very short timespan, the body releases new hormones to and new levels of hormones. Your child will dramatically change physically, emotionally, and spiritually before your eyes.
As part of this process, they gain the ability of abstract thought. Now, this is a new ability, so they have far from mastered it, and many times it will master them. Do not be surprised when your child starts talking non-sense as if they have figured out the world! This is especially true of outward processors. If you are unaware of what I’m talking about, think about your kids for a second. Does your child like to go away, think about something, then return to you with a formed idea? Conversely, does your child immediately start thinking with and starts to form ideas as she talks? The first is an inward processor, and the other is outward processor. You always are kind of wondering what your inward processor is thinking, but you never have to wonder what your outward processor is thinking!
As part of this experience, they will pull away from you naturally. They want to become self-sufficient in their abstract thinking. Now, don’t be terrified by this. Studies like Sticky Faith show that the parent is the most important influence in the life of their child. However, your child wants to grow up, and eventually you will want him to grow up too. Otherwise, his life accomplishment may be the high score on the latest video game.
Practical Tip: Guide your child’s steps to independence. Can he ride his bike to school? Have you asked her what clubs she wants to be a part of? Let him assist choosing what classes he takes next year. What chores/responsibilities does she have? When they make a mistake help them learn the proper steps to make it right. When she fails or forgets something, let her experience the consequences. Independent people have independent consequences. Make sure your child knows the relationship of choices and consequences!
2. They Will Self-Identify
The second part of this abstract thinking is they will begin to self-perceive and self-identify. The ability of abstract thought allows them to ask the question, “What kind of man do I want to become?” These are great questions, and ones that as parents we should eagerly invite.
However, this portion tends to create drama. When a child is young, they want to play with other kids. That’s about as complicated as it gets. From K-5, your daughter’s best friend was the little girl who lived down the road. Now, you may notice a distancing happening. Generally, one girls distances and the other one gossips… Again, I’m just an observer here… What happened? Mark Oestricher and Scott Rubin call this process “proximity versus affinity” in their book Middle School Ministry.
As your child began the process of abstract thinking, he gained the ability to perceive themselves from his peer’s perspective. This is why in the teenage years, the opinions of friends takes a much higher priority, even more than parents sometimes. For example, if your son is into sports, then he will begin to associate more with the other boys who are into sports. If your daughter is into music and performing, then she may begin associating with the student sho do theater.
Some students struggle with this more than others. Maybe you know this girl. First, she listened to country music, rode horses, and wore flannel everywhere, probably because her parents do. Then all the sudden, she is a skater punk in rural America, where there is no pavement… Then, she decides she wants to be the athlete, and tries out for softball. One day she comes home from school with a new crush, and he plays football. Now, she wants to try out for cheerleading.
I would like to say this is exaggerated, but that’s not always the case. Many students struggle with this portion. Others, end up feeling like outcasts because they lack the confidence to try new things or speak to new people. Instead, they live in isolation from their peers.
Practical Tip: Help your child determine the value of friendship! 6th grade is the perfect time to talk about the difference between friends, acquaintances, and best friends. Talk to you children about who influences them. Teach them about choosing quality friends. Additionally, teach them the principles of being a good friend. You may need to aid and encourage your shy daughter in making new friends in this phase, but if she learns now, she will be better set for high school and college.
3. Their Bodies Will Change
So, this one is the most awkward, both for your child and for you. Things are going to happen that they don’t understand. You are going to have a sense of dread hit you when they ask you a certain question. No matter how much you prepare for these conversations, there will always be a sense of awkwardness to them. However, these conversations are very important, because as a parent, you are positioning yourself as a future source of wisdom.
You want the be the primary source of knowledge and wisdom for your child…not Google. If a child feels uncomfortable about a specific topic, he will be more likely to privately search the information without your knowledge. This is because puberty and similar topics are private in nature. God created this to be private in nature. After all, the covenant is between one man and one woman until death. This is the reason for the awkwardness.
Based on my observations and experience speaking with parents on this matter, I suggest that you proactively have these conversations with your children. For many, the first menstruation or the first wet dream is frightening, but as a parent you can prepare them emotionally. If this does not surprise them, but confirms the information you as the parent shared, then you become the ultimate source of wisdom. Thus, as further topics pertaining to this matter come up later in life, then you will be their primary source of information.
As the primary source of information, we can use this to shape their biblical worldview. We get to teach our children about God’s blessing of marriage, sex, and children. You will share in the excitement of “peach fuzz,” because one of the greatest joys of parenting is watching our children grow up.
Practical Tip: Begin the conversation soon! I recommend the fall semester of 6th grade. 6th grade students will be mingling with 7th and 8th grade students. If you don’t tell your children about the “birds and the bees,” one of their friends will, and you want to help navigate their hearts and minds through this. Use a conversation guide. I give these out for free to the families in my church. Many pastors do.
Do not have “the talk!” This implies it is one conversation. Multiple conversations are necessary in this area. So, begin the conversation and phase in topics as they become necessary, not reactively but proactively. Regularly find time to have open and honest conversations with your children about their physical maturation.
I hope you find this article helpful. As a student pastor, I notice that rising 6th grade students are not the only ones to struggle with the transition. Many parents struggle as much as the child, because we are navigating into new areas of life. Certainly, our anxiety increases, but what an opportunity to shape the heart, soul, and mind of a young Jesus’ follower!
Hang in there Mom and Dad! Remember why we parent! It’s for the glory of Jesus and favor of our children…and even grandchildren!!