Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Connecting with Your Middle Schooler

Leslie Basham: Rebecca Ingram Powell speaks to parents of middle schoolers.

Rebecca Ingram Powell: I think sometimes as moms we get it in our heads, “Oh, here comes middle school, so all is lost.” We need to look at middle school and say, “I have this season that I can really invest in my kids and get to know them.”

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Monday, July 25.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Can you remember when you were in middle school? Is that an age that you'd want to go back to, or are you kind of glad to put that behind you? Do you perhaps have a middle school son or daughter and maybe you're wondering, “What in the world happened to my son or daughter, and what are we going to do about it?”

Well, if any of those questions sparked some thoughts in you, then you want to be sure and stay with us for today's conversation with Rebecca Ingram Powell and her daughter, Danya Powell. Rebecca, you're an author and speaker. You're doing a lot to encourage women in that very rewarding but challenging calling of motherhood.

We want to talk in this series about a book that you've written called Season of Change. The subtitle is Parenting Your Middle Schooler with Passion and Purpose. Season of change—I think that is a great way to describe the whole middle school era. In fact, Rebecca, you're younger than I am, so maybe you can remember back to your middle school years. What was it like for you?

Rebecca: My middle school years were traumatic in many ways, but primarily because when I was eleven years old and in the sixth grade—I am a pastor's daughter—my family moved from Nashville, Tennessee across the state to Knoxville. It was just a three-hour drive, but worlds apart when you had been in the same church family and the same neighborhood all of your life.

Nancy: Pretty traumatic.

Rebecca: It really was. Then in sixth grade I was moving into a middle school, and the middle school in my community where we moved was actually the landing place for three elementary schools. So everyone there knew somebody, except me. I didn't know anyone.

So middle school started out really rough because there were so many changes going on.

Nancy: Tell us about that first day.

Rebecca: The very first day, the way they did things at this school was they put all of the sixth graders into this huge auditorium, and from there we would be sorted into our homerooms or wherever we would go. I was scared to death to go in and face that crowd, so I begged my mom to go in with me.

Now, my mom—not only was she a pastor's wife, and still is—but she was a high school teacher. I think that she knew it would be certain death for me, socially, if she went in there with me. But I begged her because I was so scared that even the embarrassment of my mom going in with me was not enough to make me not want her to. So she acquiesced and went into that room with me. Sure enough, people laughed and turned and stared and pointed because she was the only mom in there.

After a few minutes—I guess when she thought I would be okay—she slipped out. It was a scary day. It was a bad day. But what made the difference for me that day was as we were filtered into our homerooms, going down the long corridors that seemed endless, especially on that day, a girl came up to me and she said, “What's your name?” She was just friendly and warm and kind. I will never forget her, because she offered me friendship.

That makes all of the difference to a middle schooler. It makes all of the difference to us as adults, too, but especially as a middle schooler who feels so alone, that hand of friendship.

Nancy: So when you got to the place where your oldest, Danya, was a middle schooler, you had some memory of what it was like and were able to have some sensitivity to help walk with her through those years. When did it first strike you that you now had a middle school child.

Rebecca: Oddly enough, Nancy, I tried to put those memories way way behind me.

Nancy: Of your own middle school years.

Rebecca: Yes, because there is nothing worth remembering.

Nancy: I have often said I would not want to go back to thirteen. I cried through that whole year for no reason at all.

Rebecca: Yes, and to think about it makes you cry again. What sparked the memories for me was when Danya was around eleven years old. We home-schooled—probably I was trying to opt out of all of the drama and trauma of middle school.

Our kids have always been very involved in the community and in sports and in church. Here were the mean girls all over again. She's eleven years old. We're at the ball park and this girl drama is happening. It immediately transported me back to sixth grade. That's when the memories came flooding in.

Nancy: Then there was an experience when Danya was getting ready to go to camp?

Rebecca: When Danya was a rising seventh grader, she was going to her first youth camp. She was getting ready and packing her bags. I had gone up to her room to see if I could help her. As I went into this messy girl's room—which I have never been able to say anything about that because I was a mess. She gets that from me, so I don't say anything about her room.

Nancy: You just tapped into the number one conflict my mother and I had growing up. That just brought back a flood of memories right there.

Rebecca: You want to go there for a minute?

Nancy: No, I don't want to go there at all.

Rebecca: So as I am stepping over her stuff and she is packing this duffel bag, I notice that what we had always called “Mimi” was lying on the bed. Now, Mimi was her baby blanket. So here is Mimi lying on the bed, and Mimi had gone everywhere with this kid. She'd gone to grandparents' homes. She'd gone to sleepovers.

Nancy: This gown that was like her baby blanket?

Rebecca: Yes. There was no shame. She always took that with her. What was interesting to me is when her friends would come over, they would always have their things that they slept with, too. I realized that Mimi was not going to go into the duffel bag.

I went and picked up Mimi and I held Mimi in my arms and I talked to Mimi. I said, “Well Mimi, I guess this means you don't get to go to youth camp.” Danya says, “Mom!”

Nancy: Do you remember this, Danya?

Danya Powell: I don't actually. I remember not taking it.

Nancy: So you realized at that point, Rebecca, that there was a change taking place in your daughter, and therefore in your relationship with your daughter.

Rebecca: Seventh grade, I knew then that things were different. It was time to take it up a notch with parenting and with realizing she's putting some childish things behind her. I knew I had to respect that, too, even though I was teasing her. Of course what she's blanked out, obviously.

But it is a point of reference, I think, for parents, although we don't recognize it as such in the Christian faith. We don't have a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah. But seventh grade is a big deal, or sixth grade, if they are entering middle school. Whenever they make that change into youth group or middle school, it's a big deal because it is recognizing this is a new phase in growing up.

Nancy: From your perspective, Danya, thinking back to entering that season of life, what kind of changes were you experiencing?

Danya: I had to grow up very fast once I hit middle school, because we also moved when I was eleven. We moved churches. Instead of being in a nice, safe, suburban, big church that I was in with all of my friends and where I knew everyone, we moved to start ministering at more of an inner-city church where I didn't know anyone.

They didn't do things the same way. I was the only person like me there. I was home-schooled. I had grown up in a Christian family. I knew Bible stories. These kids didn't know anything like that. They were coming, literally, to learn it for the first time. Their parents didn’t know it. Their grandparents didn’t know it.

I was awakened to the fact that people don't know Jesus like I thought they did. I was actually only at the church about six months before I was ushered into the youth group because they went up in sixth grade instead of seventh grade. I didn’t have a lot of time to adjust because I didn’t know I was going. I walked in one Sunday morning and they just took us up to the youth group.

I was probably the youngest person in the youth group, so I was around a lot of things I wasn't used to. It was really cool for me that I knew my mom was proud of the way that I was behaving in the youth group, and was proud of the way that people accepted me, and that I was in a place of leadership—even though I was the youngest one and didn’t think I was as prepared as I was.

Nancy: Did you always feel that confident and secure, or were there sometimes that there was some inner sense of comparison, insecurity, or fear?

Danya: There was one point where I was going to play the piano with the youth band somewhere, and it was the very first time I had entered into the band. My dad and I were walking up into the practice room and I heard them talking about me. They didn't know me. They weren’t sure what was going to happen. Things like, “Well, she's only eleven. She probably doesn't play very well. Why did this person say she could come?”

I slowed down as I was walking. I wasn't sure what about to happen because I realized I was young, inexperienced, and they didn’t know me. What if I wasn't good anymore? What if they didn’t like me? All of that came back.

I remember talking to my parents about feeling insecure and feeling like people didn't like me, and them teaching me that if you know you are in God's hands, then you know God is proud of you. If you know your relationship is right with Him, then you can walk in that confidence, and you can be the one welcoming people and the one including those who are excluded.

It doesn't matter what people think about you or assume about you. It matters what you know about yourself and what God thinks of you. When you walk in that confidence, then people accept you more because they don't feel like they are competing with you or that they have to make you feel a certain way. When you are unmovable in Christ, then you are secure in your surrounding as well.

Nancy: I am really intrigued to hear you talk about your communication with your mom. You talked about asking your parents questions, your parents saying things to you, and you listening and caring about what they said. I think that is a bit unusual.

I've heard moms talk about, “My daughter hit twelve—or whatever that age is that you morph into something different—and she's gone into her room, closed the door, and we haven't seen her in months, basically. She doesn't talk. She doesn’t communicate.” Did you and your mom, or you and your parents always have really open and free communication in those years?

Danya: We were always open.

Nancy: Did you always feel like you could tell them anything?

Danya: No, I didn’t When I was a little younger, before middle school, I had a friend who told me it was not cool to tell my mom everything.

Nancy: And you believed her for a little bit there?

Danya: For a little bit. Then she told me the wrong thing. She was telling me a story, and she told it the wrong way. When I asked my mom about it later—because I was still going to ask my mom because it was bothering me—mom told me the truth. I realized my friend didn't know anything and my mom did. That kind of opened the door to saying maybe they do know more than I give them credit for.

Nancy: I'd like to hear some of the ways, as you look back over those years—and it's not just Danya, but you have two sons, one of them younger and still in middle school—what are some of the ways that you've tried to cultivate that open communication, to keep the lines open with your kids? And Danya, from your perspective, how have your parents done that?

Rebecca: One of the things that Danya and I started doing when she was around eleven was she and I started going to movies just as the girls. The girls are going to go to the movies. We went to sappy chick flicks. I always looked up reviews to be sure that they were fairly wholesome, and if they weren't, that gave us something to talk about.

I think that one of the pivotal moments in our relationship was when we went to go see this movie, and we laughed at all of the same parts. It surprised her when she caught on. There weren't a lot of people in there, but you could obviously tell when we thought something was funny because we are both kind of loud. I remember overhearing her tell people, “My mom and I laughed at all of the same parts.” There was that connection that she knew was between us. That would kind of be like our girls date nights or date afternoons.

Danya: Mom wasn't stuck up. She was okay with begin funny. She was okay with just chilling out and hanging out with me.

Rebecca: I think, sometimes as moms, we get it in our heads, “Oh, here comes middle school, so all is lost.” In so many ways that is Satan sabotaging our mindset. If we think that, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We need to look at middle school, just embrace that time and say, “I have these years with my kids before they're grown. I have time before they have car keys, before they are so immersed in their studies that they really don't have any time. I have this season that I can really invest in my kids and get to know them.”

What I’ve enjoyed a lot about my children as they've grown up is their personalities beginning to emerge, their humor. My husband says they have my sense of humor because we get each other. We get each other's jokes, and we all think individually that we're very funny. We have a fun home.

A lot of the reason, probably, that we do communicate well hinges on that decision that was made when she was eleven to go from our progressive suburban church to be submissive to what my husband wanted to do—to his leadership and following the Lord. Although it is only four miles from our home, we began stepping onto the mission field every Sunday and every Wednesday. We were the only people we knew who were doing anything like that.

Danya: That was something that we had some heated discussion over, the move to the different church. Intense fellowship. I remember asking why I had to go.

Nancy: Because you were leaving what was secure to you.

Danya: Right. My excuse was that there weren’t enough opportunities for me at the new church. I was in kid's choir at the other church. I had Bible-drill, and speakers, and youth events that I wanted to go to. This other church didn’t have that. What is funny about that is that mom and dad just kept saying, “God has called us to go here. We need to go as a family. We're not going to let us tear our family apart. We want you to pray and talk to God about it. Don't just pray, 'Please help my parents let me move back to this other church.'” But to pray that my eyes would be open to see what the opportunities are here for you at this other new church.

That was where I started leading worship, which is now what I do and what I want to do with my life.

Nancy: So the Lord was writing the script, and you couldn't see that at the time.

Danya: Exactly.

Rebecca: To follow up on the story she told a few minutes ago about being accepted into that youth worship band as an eleven-year-old was because they needed a keyboardist. The fact that this little church would even let their teenagers lead worship about once a month was incredible. It really showed the heart of the church. So she goes up to basically audition for them, and they were blown away because she—I can say this, I'm her mom—she's very gifted. She had been studying piano for over five years at that time.

Then it was a whole different story. It was taking those steps of getting in front of people that you're not sure if or how they are going to accept you and going through with it anyway. I think that is something, too. If we can communicate with our kids, "Here is where God has gifted you. He wants you to use whatever gift it is to glorify Him." That builds in them a lot of confidence that can carry them through the middle school years.

Nancy: Danya, you're pretty verbal and confident sharing. Did you have any of your children that clammed up and were not talkers and did not communicate?

Rebecca: I think we all have different times when we don't want to talk about things.

Nancy: How do you draw them out? Or do you let them go into the cave? How do you do that?

Rebecca: Well, I think that there is a time for it, because that goes back to a respect issue. Like with my sons, one of my boys doesn't like to talk about things that I think we need to talk about. As the mom, to talk about different aspects of sexuality and things with our sons, that is hard for mom and son to discuss. I believe that we need to lay that groundwork before the world does it for them.

Sometimes you might have a son who is resistant to talking about those things. You need to respect that, but then at the same time, maybe preface a conversation by saying, “We're going to go out and get a burger, and I want to talk about some stuff at that point.” Then they have time prepare—and for my kids—to understand that mom is expecting me to engage in conversation here.

So respecting that and then building those opportunities. A lot of times with my sons, we have had our best conversations in the car going home from a practice. They are spent physically, and we are on our way to get something to eat. I have found that is a prime time because their defenses are down, for lack of a better term, and they are ready to talk.

My older boy was having a terrible time with a kid on his baseball team. He was trying to make him the butt of jokes. He just made fun of him to make himself look better, as kids do. It was after a practice, he was physically spent, and he'd had all of that boy that he could take. I didn't know it was going on.

He got in the car and it all came out, how he felt about that boy. We went to get a bite to eat and talked about how there is a reason that a kid is going to be hurtful. Something is hurting him, and he is lashing out at you. Let's think of ways that we can pray for him and that we can look at him, not as a mean and hateful boy, but as a kid who needs a friend and as a kid who is hurting.

They never became friends, but my son was able to look at that situation in a much different way. As he got older, he spoke in front of the youth group once about how our words affect people. He went straight back to that example, about how those words had hurt him, and how he had to understand that they were coming from a kid who was hurting.

Danya: Another thing I think my parents always respected was when they asked us if we wanted to talk and we said “no.” They knew that if they kept saying, “We need to talk about it,” that was just going to make us more angry; that was going to shut us off faster.

Nancy: Did they let you withdraw some?

Danya: For a time. Not completely. When I would come in, I would be angry about something mom said she wanted to talk about, and I'd said “no.” It would all come out about five minutes later, because she knew to give me that time to not talk about it. She didn’t press, and I wasn't required to tell her. I was doing it voluntarily, and I was doing it because I needed someone to talk to. I trusted her. I think that was really important that even when we did seem to withdraw, mom didn’t freak out. She just let us have a moment to consider everything and process everything before we started to vent.

Nancy: Of course, the goal of having open communication and healthy relationships with your middle school child is that they are not going to stay a child. They will grow up and become a man or woman of God. I have been thinking as we have been talking today about that passage in 2 Timothy 1, where Paul says to Timothy, “The faith that you have started with your grandmother Lois, and with then your mother Eunice.” And then He says, “I'm now sure that that faith dwells in you in as well” (see v. 5).

So there is this passing of the baton of faith that is the bigger picture and the ultimate goal of a mom's relationship with her children. There a number of issues I want to address when we come back with the next Revive Our Hearts. I want to just ask you some practical, specific questions that I know some moms with middle schoolers, or children who are going to be middle schoolers, are wondering how did you handle dating? How do you handle media consumption and social networking and talking about sexual issues and some of those matters?

So we're going to put you on the spot. If you'll come back and join us for Revive Our Hearts again, we want to hear how it's worked in your family and what are some of the principles that you've put into place that you're seeing be effective raising a young woman and two sons who do have a faith in Christ, that they are in turn, Lord willing, going to be passing on to their children.

Leslie: Those are important topics for the parents of every middle schooler. I hope you can join Nancy Leigh DeMoss as she covers these topics this week with Rebecca Ingram Powell and her daughter, Danya. I also hope you'll dig further into these topics by reading Rebecca's book, Season of Change: Parenting Your Middle Schooler with Passion and Purpose.

If you have young children, reading the book now will help you prepare for this season of change, which will be upon you before you know it. If you already have a child in middle school, the book will offer you suggestions that you can put into practice right away. If you know someone who will be facing this season soon, it would make a great gift.

When you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any size, we'll send you the book, Season of Change: Parenting Your Middle Schooler with Passion and Purpose. Ask for it when you call 1-800-569-5959, or support the ministry by visiting ReviveOurHearts.com.

You have an opportunity to interact with Rebecca Ingram Powell today at the Revive Our Hearts listener blog. She'll be there reading comments and answering questions. Find today's transcript at ReviveOurHearts.com, scroll to the end, and you'll find the listener blog.

Well, what questions did today's program bring up in your mind? You can set rules for your children and require them to obey. But they need to do more than follow rules. They need to develop a heart to serve the Lord. Learn how parents can create a climate conducive to children's faith, tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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