In September of 1620, around one hundred people set sail from Plymouth, England on a ship called the Mayflower. After a long and treacherous voyage fraught with unforeseen storms, the ship dropped anchor that December off the shores of present-day Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Over half of the Mayflower’s settlers died that first winter. Many more of those first colonial families would’ve suffered or perished in this New World had they not found an unlikely partnership with an English-speaking Native American named Squanto. Squanto lived with the Pilgrims for almost two years, acting as guide, translator, and advisor.  He taught the colonists practical skills for survival in this New World. Squanto’s knowledge of these distinct people groups and ability to act as an interpreter/mediator to the Native American chiefs proved vital to brokering peace.

Fast forward 400 years and in each of our ministries, we find another group of weary wide-eyed travelers: parents who’ve recently set sail on a voyage to a new world fraught with unforeseen storms called the junior high years. For many, it’s a treacherous 2-3 years of chaos, disillusionment, and frustration. But what if they had a partner: someone with keen knowledge of this distinct people group—with the ability to act as an interpreter, mediator, and advocate—who could walk with them for a few years teaching them practical skills for survival in this New World? I think it could change everything: save families suffering and broker peace in their homes. That’s why when it comes to parent partnership in junior high ministry, I believe some of the most helpful and effective roles we must consistently play are that of knowledgeable guide, translator, and advisor to parents—especially in 3 critical areas:

Teenage Brain Development Guide (Your junior high student isn’t broken or crazy):

With the invention of two fairly recent technologies—PET scan and fMRI—neuroscientists can now study living teen brains in great detail. As youth workers, we need to be continuous learners and utilize this new information to guide parents into a better understanding the remarkable uniqueness of the teenage brain. Our friend Mark Oestreicher has some fantastic and easy to digest work out there on this. Here is a link to some helpful resources. (Add your favorites in comment section)

Teenage Culture Translator (Your junior high student isn’t an X’er or millennial):

It’s a new generation of independent, curious, confident, justice-minded teens who’ve never known a world without internet or smart phones. We need to seek to understand Gen Z’s cultural/social context and meet them where they are rather than where we wished they were. As youth workers, become students of youth culture and translators of it to parents. Here is a link to some helpful resources.  (Add your favorites in comment section)

Advisor Through This Phase (no ostrich-ing):

Many parents would rather bury their heads in the sand—waiting for the junior high storm to pass. As youth workers, we must lean in and leverage the distinctive opportunities of this phase and help parents to do the same. Our friends at Orange have devoted countless hours or work and research to provide us with numerous resources specific to the junior high phase.

– Kerry Ray

Discussion Questions:

  1. What could I do in the area of parent partnership to help guide them to see their junior high student as a person to be loved (a wonder to behold) vs. a problem to be solved (a season to be endured)?
  2. What are some creative and/or practical ways that I can be a teen culture translator for parents of junior high students? When/how in my programmatic year could I strategically make the most of this?  
  3. What are some resources/tools that I can offer the parents of my junior high students to help them engage and navigate this often-chaotic phase?