Every church has at least one. Usually they like to run in packs. They are often heard before they are seen – their animated laughter carrying faster than their goofy jokes. Personal grooming has yet to become a priority in large part because their mamas can hardly keep the wardrobe up to speed with their voracious appetites and growing bodies.
This group is often feared in Sunday school classes or midweek Bible studies. They don’t seem to show an interest in anything related to books, they have trouble sitting still, and their fascination with fart jokes makes most ladies squirm. What are we to do with this strange group of humans that can seem so difficult to engage and manage?
If you’ve ever worked in Children’s ministry or a classroom setting, you will immediately recognize these individuals as tweenage boys (ages 9-12). They are beyond the cuddly tikes that adored snuggle time, yet not the full grown men ready to conquer the world with a warrior’s heart. These tweens are caught in the middle of those that still collect stickers and the ones who now shave their whiskers.
In spite of the differences to their often gentler and quieter female counterparts, I have come to adore working with these unabashedly boisterous individuals. If you know a few tricks, they can be a true delight to teach and disciple.
#1 Learn their lingo.
Read a popular book in their genre. Diary of a Wimpy Kid, How to Train a Dragon (the books are vastly different from the movies so you can’t cheat on this one), Origami Yoda, and 13-Story Treehouse series are best-sellers at the bookstore.
Watch a popular action-space-robot-superhero movie. Remember, you’re only committing two hours of your life.
Play a popular video game. Some stores allow customers to try out their games before buying. Just step inside and find a title you’ve heard discussed among your students and play for a bit.
By sampling things that interest them, you’ll be able to speak intelligently with the boys in your class. Like any other age group, tween boys want to know you care about them. Take an interest in what they like, and you may even find that you’ve had some fun along the way.
#2 Channel your inner Tomboy.
Did you ever play sports when you were younger? It’s okay to launch your ball of trash across the room to score a point in the trashcan. You’ll score a point of respect with the boys.
Were you scolded a lot as a child for poor table manners? It’s okay to belch good-bye at the end of class to make the boys in your class smile.
Did you enjoy lizards, frogs, and snakes as a girl? Rejoice about how awesome God is to create such fascinating animals when these creatures are proudly brought in to share.
#3 Let them fidget.
Boys often have trouble sitting still for long periods of time. Let them stand beside their chair while filling out a worksheet or lesson paper. Let them jiggle a leg or twist in a chair. Did they find a piece of Sticky Tack on the wall? Let them fiddle with it during the lesson.
I would be embarrassed to admit how many times I have lost my patience with fidgeting behavior. Are you even listening?!? I’ll screech at sonic pitch. The offending boy will then look up at me and calmly repeat everything I’ve just said. Verbatim. Yes, he’s listening; but he’s also fidgeting.
#4 Focus on the action of a story.
When teaching a Bible lesson, use lots of descriptive words and action oriented verbs. Move around the room. Exaggerate your facial expressions. Act out fighting scenes and add sound effects.
I remember having to teach a lesson on one of Paul’s missionary journeys. The lesson was literally listing the places Paul travelled and pointing them out on a map. I dreaded having to teach this lesson because I knew I would lose at least half the class.
Enter the Playmobil pirates. Struck with sudden inspiration, I raided by son’s Playmobil toy bin and gathered the pirate ship and its crew. I made sure to show up to church a little early that day so I would have time to shove furniture out of the way and set up a crude map on the floor. By the time my students arrived, I was ready to take them on a journey with Paul as we sailed our ship from city to city.
Get creative and look at life through the eyes of a child. Think of what might grab their attention.
#5 Build in competition.
A tween boy thrives on competition even if it’s just to beat his own previous score. Play Bible games, keep records of Bible memory, or challenge them with serving others in the church. If there is a prize to be won, the boys will be all in. A full-size candy bar can hold great power!
Loving tween boys at their level reflects the way Christ loves us. I know that I wasn’t a polished, perfect diamond when Christ first loved me. Decades later, I’m still dented on the edges! When we see and accept boys for who they are, we demonstrate that Christ loves them, too— unpolished and imperfect as they are.
Someday maturity will catch up to these young warriors in training. But for now, these tween boys are young colts romping around, tripping over their long legs as they make their way to manhood. Be careful not to squash their spirits as they fumble through these awkward years. You have the wonderful privilege of shaping tomorrow’s men.
About the Author:
Heather was an imaginative, competitive tomboy growing up in the city of Miami. She spent many barefoot days with her younger brother hunting dinosaurs, building forts, transforming robots, and sending Barbie on archaeological digs. In 2000, Heather not only married the most handsome man in the church choir, but also graduated with a degree in elementary education from the University of Miami. Now a contented resident of North Carolina, Heather enjoys homeschooling her children, sneaking treats to the pet guinea pigs and rabbits, and stealing dates with her husband at the grocery store (the one place their children never want to go). Heather is the author of “Little Pillars,” a curriculum that teaches preschoolers the doctrines of The Lord’s Prayer, Apostles’ Creed, and 10 Commandments. You can hang out with Heather on Instagram at @Heather Molendyk.