Diversity of Maturity in Middle School

Girls textingA few weeks ago I talked with a group of middle school students about sex. As always, it was intriguing to notice the diversity of maturity around the room. I saw a 75 pound 6th grade boy who looked like he was plucked straight off the elementary school playground, sitting next to an 8th grade girl who looked like she was ready to leave for college next week.

How do you address a crowd with this kind of diversity in maturity?

Or for an added twist, add a bunch of high school kids in the mix—considering the many groups who combine middle school and high school. I speak to groups like this frequently, with 6th and 12th graders in the same room. Talk about a spread!

So how do you address groups like this?

Here’s how I introduced my Sex Matters talk to this particular group of middle school students a few weeks ago:

As I talk with you about this subject this morning I realize that each of you have different attitudes about and experience with sex. Some of you when I say “sex,” you think, “Yes! Sex!” Others are like, “Sex? Ewwww!” And still some of you think, “It’s not like I’m going to have sex or anything, but I have heard some things and I definitely have some questions.” My guess is you’re probably in one of those three groups.

That’s the unique situation about this age group. Some of them are really beginning to explore more mature subject matter, while others still embrace toys and innocent video games (there are a few).

I frequently encounter adults who question whether or not we should talk about subjects like sex with middle schoolers. I’ve actually heard parents say, “They’re not even thinking about it yet.” I think that is a misconception; because even the innocent kids in this age group encounter sexually charged content and images regularly.

I’m not alone in this belief. Mark Oestreicher, author of Understanding Your Young Teen, argues middle school is the perfect time to talk with teens about sex. He went as far to say, “It’s pure irresponsibility as a youth worker to avoid this subject.”

Mark knows sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students are all over the road developmentally. Some think about sex often and some barely fathom it. But honest communication is necessary as they hear about it all around them and questions arise. “In general, most middle schoolers need conversations about what sex will be more than they need conversations about what it already is.” (Something I talk about in my recent book, More Than Just The Talk)

So how do you address this diverse age group? More specifically, how can we provide them with truth, without forcing them to wrestle with temptations they haven’t even fathomed yet?

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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2 Responses to Diversity of Maturity in Middle School

  1. Kim says:

    Dear Jonathan,
    Just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate all the work, research, and sharing you do. I have followed you for about the past 10 years. I was in youth ministry and now have a young family – 3 daughters ages 12, 10, and 5 3/4, and just had a son – now 6 weeks old. Now that my oldest is 12, I read your posts w/a different interest 🙂 But I really do appreciate and respect all you share. Thank you so much for your ministry and allowing God to use you through many facets.
    Blessings,
    Kim Kopsaftis

  2. Charlie Wallis says:

    I am finishing up a year teaching 9th grade Health and I see this all the time. Kids that look like adults and act like adults (but think like kids). They are barely removed from middle school. We talked quite a bit about sex, much of it about abstinence, that you don’t have to have sex, and many teens (more than half) have not had sex. They seemed surprised that everyone is not doing it (misconceptions of media). I was a youth pastor for 20 years, never planned to teach public high school, but I used almost every point I used in ministry without chapter and verse. I did not plan to teach, but I am glad I did. I will be working for another organization after school ends, but I ended my classes by saying “Choose Life.” We do need to deal with it more in ministry rather letting the world shape their opinions. Thanks for the article.