Jerry Spinelli said, "Peer pressure is just that: pressure." And the age when most people feel the greatest pressure to "fit in" is during the middle school years. No wonder Jeff Kinney said, "I've never run into a person who yearns for their middle school days."
Obviously, the early adolescent years can make or break a person. That is not to say you can't bounce back later in life, but the damage done during these formative years can be difficult to repair.
God's power is certainly more than enough to heal those who have been broken, as well as to protect young hearts that are experiencing greater pressure than they have ever known. And needless to say, young teens need the benefit of a strong family as well as supportive friends.
Rebecca Stead said that middle school is "a time a lot of kids feel like they don't even have one good friend." What a shame. Every young person needs good friends, and there is certainly no better friend than Jesus. With that said, God's power is the greatest resource available to young people in order to overcome middle school pressure.
Parents are wise to have timely and pertinent discussions with their young teens, and church leaders are wise to create forums for heartfelt conversations among middle school youth. When raw emotions and stressful experiences get bottled up inside the heart and mind of a 13-year-old, the result of such agonizing pressure is not good.
People need the Lord and His mighty power, and this is especially true in early adolescence. Zooey Deschanel described the early teen years this way: "Nothing could be as hard as middle school."
Youth often feel thrown into the lion's den when they hit their middle school years. In the case of Daniel in the Old Testament, God sent an angel to shut the mouths of the lions. (Daniel 6:22) And God can protect the hearts and lives of our young people as well, even when they are immersed in a setting where bullying, personal attacks, profanity, and sexual jokes are commonplace.
Some youth, of course, are home-schooled and therefore avoid the full brunt of this pressure. Hillary Duff, who stopped attending public school in fourth grade, had this to say: "Everyone grows up with the peer pressure, and kids being mean to each other in school. I think that's such a horrible thing, but I never really dealt with it in a high school way."
But for those who do find themselves in the lion's den of an oppressive setting, parents and church leaders can help to offset this pressure by bringing adolescents together to share their "stories from the front line" and draw strength from God's story of salvation. There are young people in every community who are literally dying to be heard, accepted, understood, assisted, encouraged, and nurtured through the maze of middle school.
Adolescents need a safe place to share their hopes, fears, dreams, concerns, experiences, successes, failures, and desires. And when a young person comes to see just how practical it is to rely upon Jesus, he or she suddenly begins to grasp that a relationship with God is more than a set of doctrines and goes beyond attending weekend gatherings for worship.
God wants to become the focus and source of our entire existence. And when this reality comes into focus during early adolescence, a disciple begins to emerge from the cocoon of childhood into the real and often harsh world of middle school. And this is when youth discipleship really kicks into gear.
It is a beautiful thing when a young believer reaches out to assist someone who is being bullied, rather than joining in the abusive treatment. This is one of the greatest demonstrations of Christian love an adolescent can make, and it comes from a heart filled with compassion, genuine concern, and spiritual power. And make no mistake about it: Only God can pour supernatural love into the human heart.
As corrosive aspects within today's culture continue to evolve, middle school pressure is not going away. And with human nature being what it is, there will always be some adolescents who choose to oppress even the most vulnerable among us.
With that in mind, one can certainly understand why more and more parents are opting for homeschooling these days as a way to teach, mentor, and disciple their children at home, while also providing plenty of social interaction through a variety of activities with other youth outside the home.
Beatrix Potter quipped, "Thank goodness I was never sent to school: it would have rubbed off some of the originality."
And it was Plato who declared, "Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion has no hold on the mind. Therefore do not use compulsion, but let early education be a sort of amusement; you will then be better able to discover the child's natural bent."
Agatha Christie added, "I suppose it is because nearly all children go to school nowadays and have things arranged for them that they seem so forlornly unable to produce their own ideas."
And Albert Einstein said, "Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school."
Whatever option parents choose for schooling their children, it is critical that young people learn to rely upon God's power when facing adversity. As families engage in daily discussions about faith issues and life pressures, young people are able to breathe a sigh of relief. And when churches provide opportunities for adolescents to discuss issues together in a setting where the truth of God's love is also being shared, the benefits are immense.
Creativity, communication, friendships, reflection, and open discussions are often the result when parents and churches team up to bring middle school students together to share and grow with one another. And this practical approach to combating middle school pressure helps young people develop a friendship with Jesus the Messiah.
Prayer, worship, and Bible study become healthy habits when parents and churches work together to help youth experience God's power and blessing during the middle school years. And these are habits that believers certainly need in their adult life as well because there will always be pressure and troubles in this world.
It has been reported that 85% of Christians in America say they accepted Christ between the ages of 4 and 14. Hearts are open during this period of life, even as the pressure is getting ramped up. Middle school is an ideal time to reach a young heart and a young mind with the love and grace of Jesus, and to help our youth experience the power of the Holy Spirit for themselves.
Pressure is often a huge factor in motivating a person to call upon the Lord for strength.
So let's get after it as we pray and seek to reach adolescents for Christ. Once a young person accepts Jesus as Savior, there is no limit to how far he or she can grow in Christ and flow in the supernatural power of Almighty God.