“Wow . . . really?”

“God bless you!”

“I’ll pray for you!”

These are the top three responses I get from people when they learn I work with middle school students for a living. And usually, it’s said in a tone of confusion or skepticism. Most adults simply can’t believe someone would choose my profession on purpose. I’m fairly convinced some of them secretly suspect I somehow messed up in an earlier career and ended up where I am out of necessity. Or they can’t work out why I haven’t been promoted to a more important job . . . a more adult job.

When you tell someone you’re parenting a seventh grader, you probably get these responses as well. And for good reason. Parenting a seventh grader is hard work! For most of us, the days of sweet cuddles and handmade gifts are fading into the background. In their place, we’re confronted with a new kid who is constantly changing from week to week, day to day, even hour to hour.

One day you might come home and they meet you like a puppy! Their hopeful expression suggests, “I’m so glad you’re here! Can you play with me?” Then, the very next day, they’ve turned into a skittish cat. You walk in the door and they’re nowhere to be found. Maybe you see them an hour later, silently gliding across the floor, appearing long enough to give you a glance, a hiss, and turn their tails at you as they walk up to their room.

These developmentally schizophrenic creatures are challenging. Just when you think you have them figured out, they turn on you. They’re expensive, frustrating, uncomfortably honest, and many times, they just smell bad. But if you look beyond the surface, you’ll find out that some of the most important, incredible, and God-ordained changes are happening in your seventh grader.

Their minds are changing faster than at any other time in life except the first few months after birth. New wires, new hardware, and new software all hit in a short amount of time. Often the inconsistencies you experience from your seventh grader are just an expression of the inconsistency they feel as they oscillate between the joys of learning a new skill and the frustration of having no idea how to operate their new brain.

Their relationships are changing. They’re surrounded by friends who are all navigating the same developmental changes they are. Take a moment to think about how complicated that is. You think you’re frustrated by the dynamic personality of just one seventh grader? Try attempting to figure out your best friend whose brain is doing somersaults while your brain is doing the same thing!

When you understand what’s going on inside your seventh grader, you begin to realize they’re much easier to understand than you might have thought. In fact, they’re actually incredibly fun to hang around. Who else can approach life and God with the trust of a child and the logic of an adult?

Every once in a while, I run into someone who really gets seventh graders. Someone who understands not only why I do what I do, but why I love what I do. They understand I don’t just go on weekend retreats where eleven-year-olds refuse to shower because my boss makes me. They understand I don’t spend hours of my week purchasing random food items for a game simply because I have a strange sense of humor. They understand that I do what I do for middle schoolers because it’s an incredible job, an important job, and most of all, it’s a fun job.

When I find someone who gets it, they say (with a smile and not a hint of sarcasm):

“That sounds fun!”

“What an important job!”

“I’ll pray for you!”

And those are the same things I say to anyone who is parenting a seventh grader.

– Tom Shefchunas
Executive Director of Student Strategy at Orange and Former Multi-Campus Director of Middle School for Northpoint Ministries

Parenting Your Seventh Grader

Parenting Your Seventh Grader simplifies what you need to know about seventh graders in general and gives you a place to discover more about your seventh grader—so you can make the most of this phase.

You are suddenly receiving fashion advice and culture lessons from your own kid, but you might be in one of the best phases of your child’s life. THIS IS THE PHASE WHEN NOTHING YOU DO IS COOL, WHAT THEY FEEL RIGHT NOW MATTERS MOST, AND ONE SUDDENLY SOCIAL KID WANTS TO KNOW, “WHO’S GOING?”

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