What’s a Preteen?
What Are Preteens Like?
The word preteens describes 10- to 12-year-old students who are in the last two years before going into junior high (4th/5th grades or 5th/6th grades). Preteen boys want fun and games; girls want friendships and personal connections. Preteens don’t want to just be entertained; they are interested in service and mission. They want to experience God, not just talk about Him. They are looking for a way to express their spirituality. Preteens need a consistent, safe, intimate, and focused environment.
Preteens are in a transitional period of development. No longer fully engaged by methods effective for middle elementary kids, but not quite ready for full-blown teen programming, preteens are ready for leaders who aren’t afraid to get into their world, while giving space for their growing personal faith and leading with a shepherd’s heart.
As you get to know the preteens with whom you work, you can also keep these general characteristics in mind:
- Physically, preteens are developing at different rates and often feel awkward because of that. They need activity and opportunities to move. Preteens are approaching or experiencing puberty and are going through many changes.
- Intellectually, preteens are beginning to understand abstract and symbolic thinking. They notice when people’s words are different from their behavior, and they see themselves as young adults.
- Emotionally, preteens crave and respect empowerment from adults. They desire to have their opinions heard and respected. They can seem unbalanced due to the internal and external physical changes they are going through.
- Socially, preteens are highly sensitive to peer pressure. They need time to socialize, and they require assistance in rearranging cliques and including new students in activities.
- Spiritually, preteens can understand parables and Bible word pictures. They are receptive to God’s offer of salvation, and they need caring, consistent adult role models to disciple them and help them grow in their faith.
If you’re a teacher or leader of preteens, the book Leading Preteens will help you
- understand preteens and their world,
- start your own preteen ministry,
- plan great lessons that will stick with preteens,
- involve preteens in worship and ministry,
- connect to parents, and
- learn from the mistakes and sticky situations of other preteen ministry leaders.
Check out this excerpt from Chapter 1 of Leading Preteens and see what Patrick has to say to you.
Get Into Their World
What preteens are like and how to get to know them
The preteen world is always changing. Even if preteens describe it to me today, it’ll be irrelevant by next year, maybe next month. News from yesterday is, well, yesterday. No matter how far away his friend lives, he’s only a text second away. She knows the trends in fashion, talk, news, and stuff to own. I can’t fool them or talk down to them. The preteen world is as complex and changing as mine. That’s one thing I have in common with them for sure.
When I’m in staff meeting and the computer guy starts talking, I understand his first sentence or two. Then he starts explaining why we’re having problems with this or that or why we’re not going to be able to use the server, and I’m lost. I know he’s talking about something really important to me and I want to understand, but try as I might, I don’t get it. I can’t track with his terminology. When he starts comparing two computer programs, it’s way over my head. I completely check out when I don’t know what he’s saying. So I give up and gaze out the window. It’s not out of disrespect; I totally think this guy is amazing. I think this is how our students feel sometimes. They love us and want to get what we’re telling them, but we’re speaking the wrong language and using the wrong examples.
Did I Say Listen?
It takes more than Sunday mornings to get into their world. I watch some of their TV shows and listen to their songs. I listen to them when they talk to me and watch what they get excited about. I ask them about what sports they’re in, what movies they’re watching, and what video games they’re playing. And I listen as we talk about issues in their families and with their friends. Did I say listen to them?
Getting into their world doesn’t mean you have to act like them or pretend to like everything they do. But it does mean that if you know a lot of stuff about them, you can help them navigate their choices and opportunities. It means you can use examples from their world to make your lessons relevant. The more you get into their world, the more you’ll understand their thinking, and the more you’ll be able to predict what will work with them and what won’t.
Observe or read about other ministries too, but don’t copy them. For lots of reasons, don’t try to be like other preteen ministries, no matter how cool or relevant they seem to be. God didn’t give me anyone else’s ministry, He gave me mine. The same is true for you. That means I’m supposed to minister to my unique group of preteens, and you’re supposed to minister to your unique group of preteens.
What’s relevant or interesting to another group of preteens may not be relevant or interesting to mine. The preteens I’m supposed to be reaching may not be interested in someone else’s video game-driven ministry. The students I’m supposed to reach may be drawn more to sports, music, or service projects. When I get into their world I’ll know more what my students need. Now that doesn’t mean I should ignore other successful ministries and not learn from them. Not at all. Look around—lots! I’ve gotten great ideas and insights from other ministries. But don’t try to be just like them. Have the ministry with your students that God wants you to have. To find some information about preteen ministries, search the Internet for preteen ministries or preteen ministry blogs, and start asking around. There are some great ministries out there that’ll give you some fantastic ideas. You can also check out the SuperStart! event Web site at www.ciy.com/superstart.
Use Their World Stuff
Use their preteen-world stuff to teach! Use examples from their world in every lesson. That’s what Jesus did. Jesus used figs and coins and sheep—stuff that His listeners could relate to—stuff from their world. Think of preteen-world examples ahead of time to use, stuff that your students can relate to. Use examples from video games, music, entertainment, family, school, sports, and friends. Ask your students to give you some examples during the lesson too. When you use stuff from their world, your preteens feel as though you understand them.
Use their preteen-world stuff to reach! When you use their world examples, you’re showing preteens you really care about them. You’ll touch their hearts and minds. In turn, they’ll bring their friends to learn too. You’ll reach heart after heart and mind after mind.
Use their preteen-world stuff to preach! NOT!! Don’t preach to preteens. They get sermons from their parents and schoolteachers, police officers and firefighters, even friends and neighbors. Great teaching involves the students in discussions. Teaching segments should be short and interactive. Preaching is telling them stuff for more than, say, five minutes. Save the preteen-world stuff for teaching and reaching and skip the preaching.
For more practical advice on how to have a successful preteen ministry, contact your Christian education supplier or call Standard Publishing at 1-800-543-1353 and order Leading Preteens, Item no. 02360.