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We have successfully navigated the graduation season, and now our “6th graders” are officially “7th graders.”  For us, this means that these preteens are introduced into student ministry programming on Sundays.  As quickly as this transition happened (Sunday night for us), it really was not done without some planning and intention.  I have to say that we have not perfected the method, nor have we done everything we actually want to do.  But here some things that we are doing this year to transition 6th graders into student ministry:

 1. Graduation
In the Sunday Celebrations post, I talked about our 6th grade graduation.  This event was held to honor the students’ completion of children’s ministry and to encourage them for the next phase of life.  Marking the rite of passage with a special event helps these students to know that it is time to turn the page.  It prepares them mentally for the coming weeks of a new staff, new environment, and new opportunities. 

2. Assimilation
These “7th graders” entering student ministry will most likely spend the majority of their time with fellow “7th” graders or the grade just above them.  Our student ministry recognizes this and plans a trip for incoming 7th & 8th graders.  These students head out of town and spend the weekend bonding with a dinner theater and amusement park.  The event is a great opportunity for bonding between these students and the student ministry staff.

3. Familiarity
Everything is changing for a preteen.  It’s nice to have something consistent from time to time.  As Preteen Pastor, this is where I really appreciate our student ministry team.  They have invited me to remain in the lives of these students.  I will be attending the fun trip with these students as well as speaking in the student ministry services a few times over the summer.  Our hope is that a familiar face will help to acclimate these students into the new ministry and allow them to worship in this new environment without fear or anxiety. 

4. Cross Contamination
For the past two months, these students have had dose after dose of the student ministry staff in some form.  We have invited them into the 6th grade environment to begin getting face time with the students.  We think it’s important for the students to develop trust in the student ministry leaders prior to their graduation.  This is equally, if not more, important for their parents.  At each parent meeting this past semester, we would speak to the parents about the transition.  We took every opportunity possible to let a student leader speak to the parents about what to expect and how to stay involved.  It was a huge help to have student ministry come into our world and begin speaking to students and parents.

5. Follow the Leader
In this case, we’re actually talking about follow the students.  We encourage our small group leaders to move into student ministry with the students.  It makes our job tougher because we have to refill those positions for the coming year, but we think the influence outweighs anything else.  The leader has earned the trust of the student and the parent, opened lines of communication with both, and learned so much about the spiritual condition of the student.  It just makes sense for them to continue walking through life with their students.  We’re not to 100% in this area, but we are celebrating that we do have several leaders moving up with their group.

 

A few weeks back, I raised the idea of having a “summer reading” with our small group leaders.  It’s been a busy month of wrapping up the school year, but we are finally at a point that we’re ready to launch that idea.

Today, our leaders will receive an email invitation to take part in reading D.A. Carson’s book, The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story.  The book does a great job of explaining Scripture and the foundations of Christian faith. My hope is that it will make our leaders hunger even more for the Word of God as they discover how God has called them to play a part in the story. We have an amazing team of leaders, and I’m really looking forward to this time with them.

As we prepare week to week to minister to preteens, we want our leaders to know why they believe what they believe and why they teach what we’ve asked them to teach.  This knowledge of how we fit into God’s story is what makes their teaching and the Scriptures come alive to the students.  My hope is that walking through this book with them will allow us all to grow in our faith as well as help us to encourage the faith of our students.

Here are some of the things that I want our leaders to contemplate and discuss:

How do we encourage preteens to discover who God is?

How do we lead preteens to discover who God has made them to be?

How does knowing our role in God’s “Big Story” help us to BE the church?

How do we empower preteens to share God’s “Big Story” with the world around them?

I can’t wait to see what God teaches me from this book and the discussions with our leaders.  I’ll definitely be sharing more in the weeks to come.

 

Facebook, the social network that was created as a collegiate exclusive site, has become widely used by teens and preteens.  The site requires users to be 13 years of age or older, but the policy is difficult to uphold and enforce.  Research by Consumer Reports Magazine shows that as of 2011, 7.5 million U.S. users were under the age of 13.  Slightly more than 5 million of those were under the age of 10.  The stats raise the questions, should preteens be using Facebook?

The answers to that question will be different for every parent.  I’m not trying to answer that question for parents, but my fear is that we are not giving it as much thought, as it deserves.  Open communication is always the key to dealing with these issues.  Here are some thoughts that we can encourage parents to consider…some good and some bad:

1. Rules are Rules
The Facebook user agreement states “You will not use Facebook if you are under the age of 13.”  If preteens are allowed to register a profile on the site, then a message is sent that says breaking the rules is ok when it’s something you really want.  While this may seem innocent, it does make future conversations about “required ages” difficult.  If it is ok to lie about age at 13, then why wouldn’t it be ok at 16, 18, or 21?

2. Controlled Environment
Many parents will allow their preteen to create a Facebook profile because the site is a semi-controllable environment.  They can limit the visibility of their child’s profile, as well as reject unknown friend requests.  This feature is a better option than allowing children to freely surf the Internet unsupervised.  There are still risks involved, but if properly managed, Facebook may be a safe alternative to other Internet usage.

3. Increased Risk
Preteens on Facebook are at an increased risk for harmful behaviors.  First, there is a risk of privacy when a profile is created.  Their pictures, daily schedules, school locations, and friends are posted and seen by others.  To avoid this risk, it is important for profiles to be set to visibility by friends only.  Even with the additional security, digital relationships show signs of increased aggressiveness, such as bullying, harassment, and stalking.  The research by Consumer Reports found that 1 million children were subjected to harassment, threats, and other forms of cyber-bullying in the past year.  Preteens may find it difficult to deal with these types of behaviors, especially if they are cannot talk to parents about the issues because they are on Facebook without permission.

4. Increased influence
While most of the stats show an increase of negative influence on preteens through Facebook, the opposite might also be plausible.  Many ministries are finding ways to use social networking to better connect with their congregation, student ministries included.  The 1 to 2 hours per week of influence that the church once had can be expanded to a much greater impact through social networking.  It can promote relationships with other believers, connect students to Scripture on a daily basis, and give students a platform to talk about life issues with ministry leaders or peers.  We have found that this is especially helpful when students attend church together but do not attend the same schools.  It is a way for those students on different campuses to connect with their church friends throughout the week.  The key for parents is to check on their preteen’s use of Facebook to make sure that the influences and interactions are positive for the child.  Sadly, according to Consumer Reports, only 18% made their child a Facebook friend or checked their Facebook use regularly. 

Should a preteen be on Facebook?  This is a tough question.  We know that they’re asking, and parents are under a lot of pressure to respond.  They need help processing the decision and they need tools to help with the communication with their child.  As a preteen leader, I don’t see it as my job to make the decision for the parents.  My role is to equip them and partner with them in making the best out of whatever decision they make.

How are you equipping parents to make the touch decisions?

How do you help parents feel prepared to make the decision about Facebook or other social networks?

 

We hosted a parent meeting this past Sunday for all our 5th grade parents and we talked about what was in store for their child in 6th grade.  We discussed the various units and lessons that we will cover, and then it happened.  I said “Pornography.”  Just the mention of the word puts everyone on high alert.  I don’t think parents were shocked as much as they were desperate for some assistance in how to address the issue with their preteen. 

Here are the cold hard facts…

The fourth most-searched word on the Internet for kids ages 7 and under in 2009 was “porn.”
For all kids up to age 18, sex was No. 4, porn No. 5.

A recent survey found that 30% of girls ages 9 to 15 years old had sent or received sexual messages or photos of themselves.

1 of every 3 that reported to receive “sext” messages said that they accidentally received the message that was intended for someone else.

(Data from OnlineFamily.Norton.com and research from AK Tweens)

These stats mean that many preteens are falling prey to pornography, intentionally and even unintentionally.  As the church, we need to be thinking through a strategy for equipping parents to have a conversation with their children.  I am reminded of the damage and consequences that came from just one look in the life of King David.  His eyes caught Bathsheba naked, and his mind could not escape the image.  The result was a downward spiral of sinful decisions.  The danger is real, the stats are real, and we need a strategy.

I feel like the best way to address the topic is on the family level.  Therefore, we have chosen to equip the parents with resources to carry-out a discussion with their child that points to God’s call to pure actions and thoughts. 

What’s your strategy for equipping parents to deal with the danger of pornography?

I’d love to share some of the info that we’ve given to parents to help that conversation.  We also give information for protection services that will help them to create boundaries on their computers and mobile devices.  If interested in that material, you can contact me via comment, twitter, or email.