Why I Tried To Quit Working With Middle Schoolers, But Failed Miserably

What would happen if we affirmed what our kids did right instead of criticizing everything they did wrong?


I have just begun my third year leading a small group of middle school children during the Bible class hour on Sunday mornings.

One quick note: I often find it difficult to work with middle school children.

I struggle with patience.

I struggle with silence when a question is asked.

I struggle when I have to repeat myself with things like, “Please sit down.” “Please stop talking over one another.” “Please stop crawling on top of the furniture and trying to get on top of the refrigerator.”

In fact, I almost gave up on working with the middle schoolers this school year.

But something kept me coming back. This summer I did several things with the middle school group that were fun and enlightening. This past weekend, I got to spend time with 50 or so of the students at a retreat.

And something keeps amazing me in the greatest way: these kids love Jesus. Here is some proof:

  • No one was left alone this past weekend. Everyone was included.
  • The way these kids worship: singing, raising hands, listening to people read Scripture.
  • The heart they have for the outcast. I have heard these young men and women say things that some adults need to learn about loving those who are not a part of the “in crowd.”
  • I have watched them share communion together and wash one another’s feet as a sign of love and service.
  • They want to build relationships as they help people; they want to know who they are helping.

And it goes on and on. These kids are not perfect. There are still words spoken that should not be said. There are still jokes that are laughed at that would be better left untold. There are still moments when one person or a small group of people are excluded. Arguments break out. Crushes and “dating” at times threaten ongoing friendships. In other words, they are human. More specifically, they are humans going through an incredibly difficult time of biological and hormonal development.

I need to remind myself of this often, because too many times I get frustrated when they won’t quiet down soon enough. I watch the youth ministers and other adult volunteers and they seem to be much better at dealing with the chaos. They laugh and patiently wait as the noise dies down. (Meanwhile, I’m getting ready to yell and scream at the top of my lungs!)

They get something I don’t get: they see these young people as young people; complete with all the immaturity, silliness, and development that exists among them.


Back to my original question: what would happen if we did more affirming and less criticizing?

My default is to point out what needs to be corrected. What if I could change that to pointing out what was done right? When I am frustrated with noise and chaos, what would happen if I started with, “You know, I love the ways you all worship. I love how you care for one another.”

What about making those statements even where there is no chaos? Why do I forget to affirm the greatness I see when everything is normal?

Here is what I am going to try and do, and I hope you will try with me:

  1. I am going to acknowledge the good I see as soon as I see it. These 11, 12, 13, and 14 year olds hear enough about what they are doing wrong. I am going to tell them what I see them doing right.
  2. When I see something that needs to be corrected, I am going to start with a statement of affirmation. They do so much right; let’s remind them of it, especially in the midst of a time for learning.
  3. I am going to let parents know they are raising good kids and they are not doing it alone. As parents, we need to remember we are not walking through this journey alone. We can all do this together.


There is one more thing I need to remember when I work with middle school students:

It’s not about me.

One other thing I struggle with is my own sense of self perception. If the students are not listening to ME they are not respecting ME and missing out on all MY wisdom and life experience.

I don’t know exactly when I got so egotistical, but I really need to get over it. It is not my duty to mold all of these young men and women into spitting images of me (wow—that’s a scary thought). It is my job to walk with these young men and women as they grow more into the image of Jesus that God has called them to.

It is a privilege to walk through life with these middle school students and their parents. It is comforting to know that my own children are a part of this youth group with this leadership team and this group of volunteers. It is humbling to be a part of it all.

All it takes is to remember that these kids are sons and daughters of God. They need to be encouraged. They need to be taught. They need to be loved.

So let’s start catching them doing things right!

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