The hearts of Junior Highers

I am recovering today after a long week of camp for junior high school students. It was my first time being the dean of a week of camp. Stressful – yes. Tiring – yes. Exhausting – yes. Rewarding – ministry always is. Painful? – yes.

Maybe it’s just my youth and relative inexperience in ministry (I’ve been at it 3 years), but I never cease to be amazed when God allows me to see into the hearts of junior high school students. That happened this week, and I want to share a couple of examples that I believe are indicative of junior highers as a whole. I’ll change names since some people that I know and that know these kids read this blog occasionaly.

Allison – Allison might have been the prettiest girl at camp this week. She was tall, skinny, and, when she let her guard down, had a great personality. The problem was that, most of the time, her guard was up. She was aloof, seemed disinterested, disrespectful, and was focused almost entirely on her camp ‘boyfriend’. In terms of physical appearance, she looked like one of those young people who are trying very hard to make people think they’re not trying at all. Know what I mean?

But Allison’s bravado and aloofness was all a show. One of the female counselors in her cabin told me that, as pretty and in shape as she was, she was the most vocal girl in her cabin about how much she hated her own body. This girl is probably 5’9″ and about 120 pounds, and she complained almost constantly about her weight when in the cabin. When she thought no one was looking, she would un-guard her facial expression, and the pain and insecurity in her life was as visible as if it was written there with a marker. It was utterly heartbreaking to see such a beautiful young girl with such low self esteem.

Kristy – Kristy was another girl at camp this week who broke my heart. She came to camp with a girl she knew from home. By the end of the first full day, she had completely abandoned her friend from home in favor of the ‘cool kids’. I literally saw her running from her friend from home in order to catch up to the cool crowd on more than one occasion. At meals, she didn’t sit with her friend from home. At chapel services, she usually ended up sitting with the cool kids, without a backward glance for her friend. The message was as clear to me as I’m sure it was to her friend – “You’re not part of the cool crowd, so you’re not cool enough for me.”

The message was received. Kristy’s friend from home spent most of the week alone. The hurt on her face in her unguarded moments was heartbreaking. My heart broke for them both. To Kristy, only one question in life matters right now – “Am I part of the cool crowd or not?” Sad.

James – James is one of those kids who is a natural leader. And like so many natural leaders at this age, he has no idea at all that he is a leader. He’s one of those kids that all the other boys look up to, no matter what he does. Good or bad. They all want to do what James does. Like a lot of junior high boys, James puts on the cool/athletic/confident/charming facade. But like most junior high boys, he is every bit as insecure and self-conscious as the junior high girls. He craves attention in any form he can get it. And, unfortunately, it’s much easier for junior highers to get attention for hijinks, pranks, and misbehavior than for anything positive. So we had some trouble with James this week. He wanted to attention on him all the time, even if it meant acting out to get it. At the root of it all is his insecurity.

In fact, if I had to sum up everything I learned about junior highers this week, it could be summed up with the word ‘insecure’. Each and every one of them is struggling to find out who they are and where their place is in the world. It makes me sad, but it also gives me new energy to try to invest in their lives.

Know any junior highers? Observe them for awhile, and see if the word ‘insecurity’ doesn’t come to mind.

Peace.

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