When a baby is born, he is not developmentally ready to walk. One day, he reaches an age where he is, except that he is not, because he is never done it before. He is ready developmentally, but not experientially.
This is when we encourage the baby. We hold his hands and walk with him, up and down the hallway countless times. One day, he scoots over to a coffee table on his own volition. He slowly stands, with pudgy fingers cling tightly to the table, struggling to find balance. Eventually after a few wobbly moments, he let go. He takes a few tentative steps and falls.
Now, think about what we do when he falls. Do we shake our heads disapprovingly and say, “What is wrong with you! Why are you acting like that?” Do we rescue him and insist that he should never try walking again with our help? No. Of course not.
We celebrate the steps forward with claps and encouraging words. We celebrate that he is slowly becoming a child who can walk on his own and. This baby, who was once unable to walk, is now ready (developmentally not experientially). We celebrate his experiments. We celebrate his efforts and his risk-taking. We encourage these things because we know he needs these experiences to eventually stopped falling and start walking with confidence.
Preteens, much like toddlers, are developmentally ready to use new functions but they don’t have the experience to know how to use these functions well. Many of us find it harder to respond with claps and encouraging words to preteens as they take risks because they aren’t just taking stumbling steps and falling on the carpet.
Instead, we see them:
- Challenging what we’re telling them about God
- Distracting people around them while we’re trying to communicate truths
- Making obvious bad choices without being able to explain why
- Defending those bad choices, against all reasons and authority
Cheering on a baby who is learning to walk seems to come more naturally to us; but what would it look like to cheer on a preteen?
Preteens are at an age where they are developmentally (but not experientially) ready to start taking ownership of their faith, their relationships, their spirituality, and their lives. At some point, we must let go and let them take ownership of their Christianity.
The first essential of intentionally supporting our preteens is a commitment to letting go of the bike. That means we allow – or even better, ENCOURAGE – them to use their new mental, physical, social and emotional abilities to discover their own walk with God. It also means we have to expect some serious messing up as preteens stumble forward into ownership.
The most crucial part is being there as we cheer them on for the two steps forward rather than nagging at them when they fall. Get ready to dust a preteen off when he seriously messes up, give him the reassurance that we’ve got his back, and say, “You want to try this again? I know you’ve got it and remember that God is with you always.”
Enjoy the ride & stay blessed!