Last week, I was sitting with a group of teenagers at a retreat in the mountains. The high school guys at the table were humoring the youngest in their group. You could tell this was their role, to laugh with this kid, a middle schooler, sometimes at him, but also protecting him in a way. This made me smile on the inside.

The kid was inquisitive, smart, no-filter-honest, and confidently quirky. He owned most of the conversation at our table. During our meal, he would interject the funniest quips and remarks. All the while, the high school guys would smile and exchange glances. I had a feeling they were the kind who the kid felt safe to be wrestled to the ground by—because he knew that they’d also walk with him and sit with him as he is—not as they wish he could be. There was a brotherhood and a visible annoyance happening simultaneously. I love that kind of community.

Then we had a super fun conversation.

Me: “You guys are really great with each other.”
Perceptive Middle school guy: “They have to interact with me, they can’t get away from me.”
High school guys: No words, just half smiles.
Middle school guy: “I’m a strange specimen.”
High school guys: Again, no words. They seemed to agree but not verbalize it with more half smiles.
Me to the middle school guy: “You are a delight.”
Middle School guy: “That’s what my parents said too!”
High School guys: No words. But they began to laugh, doing their best to hold it in.
Middle School guy: “Then they told me to be quiet and sent me to camp so they can sleep.”
Me + high school guys: Laughs you could hear across the cafeteria.

I couldn’t keep the smiles in because it showed me how much a middle schooler needs people to remain during their wild wonder years.

I was imagining my daughter at that table. Parents, I was imagining your sons and daughters at that table. And I was imagining their friends. I was being filled with hope. This is how a village works. This is how love works.

I believe there are two influences that we can intentionally encourage for our middle school kids lives, the kind that can be steady when everything else seems to be shifting. The influence of a church family and the influence of friends, who are also learning to love Jesus, can both give your middle school kid a safe place to grow in their own special way.

Your middle schooler is probably wildly aware of how others see them. They understand and can empathize with your annoyance with them. Yet, they aren’t quite sure how to control what comes out of their mouths or the decisions they don’t want to make but make anyway. Sometimes, they seem aloof and on another planet. Sometimes they seem strangely self-aware and able to communicate wisdom.

Like this kid who understood he had friends and a community that wasn’t going to abandon him even if he was awkward. He understood that his parents thought he was a delight (he felt affirmed). Even if he tends to talk too much (he’s wondering if that’s okay).
And he knew his parents cared enough to send him on a retreat where he could connect and have another place to belong.

Every middle schooler needs someone to be present for them—whether it means staying put physically or emotionally—a tribe of people to offer them grace and affirmation as they awkwardly morph from child to adult.

There isn’t a middle schooler on the planet who wouldn’t benefit from having another layer of love and support in their life.

I love how the parents of this middle-school kid doubled up their love from a distance. They were saying that his life mattered enough to put him in a place where he could be loved by others kids and adults.

I don’t think that kid felt like he had to be perfect at that table.
I think he felt loved, understood, humored and even protected.
I love that kind of story.
It’s a story that you and your family can continue to build together.

So, find a kid to be present for, and REMAIN even when . . .
they begin to wonder if they matter.
they question their identity.
they realize that not everyone likes them.
they’re insecure.
they feel like their interests don’t make sense.
they’re over-confident.
they’re creating ways of communicating for themselves.
they don’t think you are remaining.

And then look for others who will do the same and be there for your own kids. Ask them to help you tell the love story that says,”I love you even if you don’t become who I want you to become; I’ll love you no matter what happens while you are becoming.”

Tell us a story in the comments below about someone who was there for you as a kid or someone who has been there for your kids.