Written by Nick Diliberto
I came across an article* on an educational website regarding the brain development of preteens**. It did an excellent job of putting to words my 15+ years of experience of working with 4th-6th graders. Below is a portion of the article and some of my takeaways for preteen ministry leaders.
“Preteens are often reckless, carpe diem action-seekers bouncing from one high-stimulus activity to the next. Accident prone? You betcha.
Impulse control? Sorry, that region of the brain — the frontal cortex — is still embryonic. Preteens might eat desserts until they get sick, they often leap before they look, and — endearingly — they frequently raise their hands enthusiastically in class before they realize they don’t know the answer.
From preteen to maturity, the brain’s primary growth area is the prefrontal cortex of the frontal lobes, a region that’s referred to as the “CEO” of the brain. This cognitive control or executive function center is responsible for general intelligence and activity like mediating conflicting emotions, making ethical decisions, inhibiting emotional and urges, and predicting future events.
And during the preteen years it’s changing tremendously in a sort of synaptic pruning process that fortifies certain neural highways while virtually abandoning the majority of others. The transitional activity of this rewiring phase is disorienting for a preteen, and often rears its ugly head in the form of recklessness, poor decision-making, and emotional outbursts.”
Sound like the 4th-6th graders in your ministry? Ha ha… I bet it does!
Here are my takeaways from the article for preteen ministry leaders:
Recklessness, poor decision-making, and emotional outbursts are all a part of the preteen developmental process.
First, know what you’re getting yourself into and be patient with them. Show them grace in your attitude and actions. Accept these characteristics are a part of their transition from childhood to adolescence.
Second, your role is to help them make wise decisions and manage their emotions. Teach about them often, talk about it in small groups, and one-on-one with students. They should be recurring themes in your ministry. Proverbs, Psalms, and James are all really good books of the Bible to help preteens in these areas.
Lastly, do research and educate volunteers and parents on the preteen brain. The more parents and volunteers know about the developmental process students are undergoing, the less frustrated they’ll be. They’ll be able to make a bigger impact in preteen’s lives.
– Nick Diliberto
Looking for preteen curriculum for your church? Get one year of new and exclusive preteen curriculum designed to help 4th-6th graders explore their faith and wholeheartedly follow Jesus.
* Article source: https://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/sixth-grader-brain-development/
** The original article referred to the brain development of 6th graders, rather than 4th-6th graders. The writer of this blog post took the liberty of referring to a larger age group, which is backed up by research and 15+ years of personal experience.