There is an intentional balance required between WHAT we teach/model and WHO we teach. I can know every Bible story in the book. I can deliver it with every ounce of energy and passion in my body and soul. Yet if I don’t take into account my audience, their needs, their world, their developmental appropriateness, are they really learning? I don’t think so. This has been my motivation for studying my students. How are boys wired so I can speak to their boy-ness? How are girls wired so I can speak to their girl-ness? What are the ‘-nesses’ of today’s culture that were not there just 15, 10, even 5 years ago?

In Dr. Leonard Sax’s book, Girls On The Edge: The Four Factors Driving The New Crisis for Girls, we read that the first factor is the unintentional consequence of our girls growing up too quickly and hitting puberty at 8 or 9 years old. That blog can be found here.  Girls today are missing middle childhood, that special period from roughly age 8 to age 12 when girls in previous generations were able to figure out who they were and who they wanted to be. A long childhood is one of the features that define us as a species (pg 100) The second factor he calls the ‘cyberbubble’ where girls are hyper-connected to their peers causing them to become disconnected to themselves.
When I grew up, my home life included relationships with a parent, siblings, and close extended family. There were many circles of friends between school, church, and recreational activities likely involving many age groups. Today, “social life” for children and teenagers means social life with kids the same age. (pg 46) Much of their world today is set in ‘age levels’ from school, dance class, softball, and even most churches.

Before the explosion of the availability of cell phones, email, instant messaging, and the technology of 24/7 connectedness in 1995, girls had a private life and private time. Tweens and teens need a time to reflect on who they are and who they want to become: time to just chill (pg 47). Hard to chill out when something next to you is vibrating every couple of minutes. How can she sleep? Most pre-teens and teens need nine hours a night to function at their full potential (pg 49). Side note: Sleep deprivation can mimic ADHD almost perfectly, having trouble focusing or finishing tasks. She’ll be absent-minded, lose her house-keys (pg 50). Research has even shared that once a child hits the age of 12, they begin ‘dropping’ info from their minds that is not the most important in the moment, because there is so much to remember. I’m having flashbacks from my kids hitting middle school and forgetting their gym clothes, band shoes, or lunch. Whew!

What does this mean for ministry with children? Am I still giving information, or am I inviting them to ask questions? Good questions. Let the room go silent to give them time to think. Every young girl needs ‘an alternative community of girls and women’ who can give a hug and remind one another that God made them and Jesus loves them. It matters to God how His kids treat one another. Can we provide another place, a community, where she feels at home? Go ahead and write the note she’ll read over and over again. Send the postcard and make comments less about what she looks like and more about Who she belongs to, how they’re treating one another, and displaying the fruit of the Spirit.

Let’s model for our girls, and talk about, setting time aside each day to be with the Lord. At 8 and 9 years old they can begin to try often enough to succeed by 10 years old some holy habits of prayer journaling, reading the Bible, giving a tithe, and serving in community. Let’s give our girls a new target for their obsessive tendencies. I remember the summer I was ten years old. There’s something that happens when a kid (boy or girl) turns 10 that begins trajectories in many directions in music, art, writing, and interests in lots of things for many seasons to come.

This brings me to Dr. Sax’s third factor: obsession.  Our girls obsess over things we think aren’t important, but they rehash conversations from their peers like a stuck record-player (NOW I’m dating myself, for sure.) Do we know what keeps our girls awake at night?

Be a good listener. Don’t be in a hurry to make recommendations. Just nod and keep your mouth shut until your daughter has her say. When we listen to our friends it is usually with the purpose of understanding their dilemmas, of helping them clarify how they feel, and of letting them know that we care. We listen long enough to know what it feels like to be in their shoes. Too often with our children, we rush in and offer suggestions, propose alternatives, or solve problems. (Madeline Levine, The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating A Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids, pg 134)

What are you thinking about the girls in your ministry? What are they ‘obsessing’ over? Join me next week for part 4 when we unpack Religious involvement seems to work as an antidote or as protection against preoccupation with physical appearance and unrealistic standards of thinness and performance. (pg 191)

“We typically believe that going to church and reading our Bibles a few times a week equals a personal relationship with Christ. Most of us would rather spend our time and energy focused on more immediate issues in our life – guy problems, friendship challenges, or weighty decisions that need to be made about our futures. And yet, amazingly, the answer to every single issue we will ever face can be found through deep intimacy with our true Prince (Jesus). Leslie Ludy, Authentic Beauty, page 184-185