… Ok, so there are really a million things you probably should know when talking to middle schoolers, but there are two specific things that should always dictate conversations with these amazing young people.
So if you tend to find yourself around middles schoolers from time to time, keep these two foundational truths in mind:
1. They are NOT afraid of conversation, they just don’t always know how to start it. A fantastic example of this happened recently in a little moment with one of my middle school girls in my small group. I was giving her a ride in my car, and as she got in she said, “I got some tea.” I was instantly confused because I saw no cup or jug or vat. “I’m gonna spill the tea,” she told me mischievously. I was like, “Don’t spill your tea in my car – this is tan upholstery.” My student then translated her language to me. “Tea means gossip,” she said. “If you got the tea, you spill the tea.”
I felt like an old idiot, but it was really funny – middle schoolers are always coming up with these weird phrases. And after she educated me on her language we had a great conversation about gossip. In this case, the “tea” wasn’t even something horrible – she just wanted to share a funny story with me about one of her friends.
2. They’re just like us – they want control of starting conversations. I let an eighth grader have the floor in a small group discussion after she said: “I had an opportunity to share Jesus today … and I didn’t.” Here was her little story.
“I sit by a boy in science that is a little off. He has a personality that doesn’t let a lot of people in – and he’s kinda scary. He has hard opinions on things. But he had a drawing on his notepad – he’s a great artist – and I said, ‘Wow that’s really good.’ He blurted out ‘It’s the face of God. Don’t judge it.’ It startled me. But in that moment, I could have asked him anything – like if he believed in God … but I didn’t. The opportunity was there and I could have opened that conversation but I was scared because it wasn’t how I would have wanted to start that conversation.”
I love the dynamics of the middle school age group. They are so authentic, open and accepting – it’s beautiful. If you’re wearing the same color they are, you can immediately become best friends. But, starting that conversation can look awkward. For my young friend in the car, “spilling the tea” was her way of opening a conversation. She certainly enticed me with that method, but I understand her desire was to feel connected and included in a good conversation. It is SO important to this age group to feel accepted, and that feeling emerges in an engaged conversation.
Keep this in mind when speaking to your middle school students, and find healthy prompts to conversations you want to dive into with your students … Just don’t spill the tea.
Mallory Jenkins is a MIX program coordinator for Christ In Youth and has served in middle school ministry for six years. Her email is Mallory.firstname.lastname@example.org.