Odds are you’ve never put much thought into that question! Thirteen? Who remembers that? Maybe you stumbled across your class picture from seventh grade? I know I have. What did you think about? Did you remember (just like I did): puberty wasn’t much fun; zits – not fun; braces – not fun; changing voice – not fun; hair popping out in crazy places -- not fun; all those “other” changes – most definitely not fun! I believe “not fun” was the main slogan of my early teenage years. How about you? What was your slogan in those early teenage days? The most fun of being thirteen was being with friends and doing something together that made us forget that we were thirteen. Good stuff, fun stuff, maybe not so nice stuff… but we did it together, and we weren’t thinking about being thirteen that was for sure!

What I learned in my fourteen years working with middle school-age students, as a youth minister is that all they really want is to be recognized as a unique and extraordinary person. They knew there was only one of them and wanted to be treated as such. It was my goal to teach all of them that the individual self is the person God created them to be.

So who are today’s preteens? They are the same people we were when we were their age. We didn’t want adults to think we cared what they thought, but we did. We wanted to be noticed, and yet, we wanted to be heard whenever we finally uttered something. We wanted the freedom to speak honestly and openly about what was in our hearts. We also desired to be able to make a difference somehow, whether little or big. Today’s young adolescent is no different.

Preteens definitely have the ability to be spiritual, because they are no longer babies or little children. It may be difficult at times, but very obtainable with God’s help. As a church family, or as a Christian community we need to recognize that spirituality and the young adolescent is a unique bond. I’ve discovered eight characteristics that pinpoint preteen spirituality:

It is a faith in transition.

It includes a struggle between belief, doubt, and disbelief.

It is personal and exciting.

It includes feelings.

Even if this age group sometimes have trouble putting Christian principles into practice, they are not hypocritical.

Failures will occur and so will successes.

It is idealistic.

It needs models and mentoring.

By looking at each of these characteristics and thinking about what each means, we can reach out to these precious young people in a more successful way for Jesus. During each interaction with youth, we can encourage them in ways to think and grow in their love for God and others. We can accept them for who they are in Christ. We can play and have fun with them in a wholesome and non-threatening manner that would not injure their self-esteem. We can create opportunities and challenges for them to grow in their faith and to put their faith into practice.

Both as a family and church family, we need to be more sensitive to the needs of all our members - especially the youth. We must be more successful at being understanding. DO YOU REMEMBER WHEN YOU WERE THIRTEEN?

Maybe this little article jogged your memory and can help you to be a better parent, grandparent, teacher, youth group leader, servant of Christ Jesus, or a better citizen in your fine community. If so, it was worth the effort of going back down memory lane for this writer. Have a great day!

–John T. Catrett, III serves as a Chaplain with ONHL Hospice. ONHL Hospice currently provides services to the majority of Northeastern Oklahoma but is available to accept patients statewide. Learn more at http://onhlhospice.com.