How to Prepare Tweens for the Teen Years
by Jaquelle Crowe
Jaquelle Crowe is a 19-year-old writer from eastern Canada. She’s a graduate of Thomas Edison State University and the editor-in-chief of TheRebelution.com. She's the author of This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years (Crossway). You can find more of her writing at jaquellecrowe.com.
The teen years are coming.
Faster than you can possibly imagine, your tweens will shed that comforting w and become full-fledged teenagers. And faster than they can possibly imagine, they will be bombarded with new temptations, opportunities, pains, and pleasures. Today’s teenagers are coming of age in an overwhelmingly sexualized and tirelessly digitized world, and they need help.
But what people often don’t realize is that this help has to start before they’re teenagers. Preparing your tweens to biblically, safely, and maturely enter the teen years is one of the greatest gifts you can give them.
How do you do that? From this teenager’s perspective, here are six suggestions.
1. Talk about discernment now (Rom. 12:1-2).
Many people expect teenagers to be able to tell the difference between right and wrong simply because they’re older. But if you haven’t laid the foundation for discernment as tweens, they will be ill-equipped to face the questions that will confront them as teens. Of course, both tweens and teens are still immature and will certainly lack the honed discernment of their elders. But they can—and should—exercise discernment. So many teenage regrets could be avoided if tweens were taught how to discern between right and wrong, between wise and foolish, and between Christ-exalting and sin-glorifying (Heb. 5:14).
2. Teach them to make the right kind of friends (Prov. 18:24).
We are most profoundly shaped by the people we spend time with. For teenagers, that means friends have an enormous influence on them. As tweens make the transition to the teen years, friendships can change drastically. In middle school and high school, cliques become stronger, drama becomes more intense, and elementary school friendships often melt away. Teens are forced to intentionally choose friends for the first time in their life.
And these friendships will define their teen years—creating a culture of life-giving encouragement or destructive rebellion. I can’t overstate the importance of good friends for your teenagers. Scripture repeatedly confirms this, especially in the book of Proverbs. “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov. 13:20). But the only way teens will walk with the wise is if you teach them how to do that as tweens.
3. Help them trust their parents (Eph. 6:1-4).
If teens are going to flourish and thrive, they need to trust their parents. They have to feel comfortable enough to come to them with anything, to be able to safely share their insecurities, questions, frustrations, problems, and emotions. And you can nurture this trust as tweens. Speak positively about parents. Encourage communication with parents. Involve parents as much as you can. Parents will play the critical role in helping their teens navigate adolescence, but they need their teens to communicate with them first. That’s where you can plant this seed in your tweens: Parents are good (Prov. 23:22).
(That being said, recognize that not all parents are trustworthy, reliable, or Christ-followers, so be aware of those dynamics and identify them when you see them. Use those opportunities for targeted discipleship, showing teens an example of a God-focused and compassionate authority.)
4. Prepare them to fail (Jer. 7:27).
Tweens haven’t had much experience with significant failure. The teen years are when we start to face our first bitter tastes of failure. And that can have catastrophic effects if it’s not handled rightly. That’s why you have a serious and difficult task: prepare your tweens to fail. Teach them how to fail well. You can do this by talking about the nature of failure—that God uses our mistakes to bring him glory and teach us good lessons. You can also share stories of failure from the Bible (Jer. 7:27). Normalize failure. But be careful to make the distinction between failure and sin. While failure is often a result of incompetence or ignorance, sin is outright rebellion against God. Never normalize sin.
5. Show them how to combat insecurity (1 Pet. 5:5).
Teenagers can battle devastating insecurity. This is often the root of their eating disorders, self-abuse, unhealthy relationships, and use of sex, alcohol, and drugs. Psychologists will tell you this is because of low self-esteem. If you buy that, you will in turn inflate the egos of the tweens you’re ministering to so they’re positively puffed up with pride and self-adoration. But this is not the way of the cross. The root of insecurity is not low self-esteem but high self-esteem—pride.
Teens are obsessively focused on themselves, on how much they do or don’t like themselves. The antidote to insecurity is humility, not pride. The way they get that is by discovering and embracing their identity in Christ. They take their eyes off themselves completely and put them on Christ. Tim Keller makes this point convincingly when he says:
“A truly gospel-humble person is not a self-hating person or a self-loving person, but a gospel-humble person. The truly gospel-humble person is a self-forgetful person whose ego is just like his or her toes. It just works. It does not draw attention to itself.”
6. Answer their questions honestly (Titus 2:3-8).
Tweens have lots of questions about what it’s like to be a teen. Answer those questions openly, honestly, but still age-appropriately. Whatever you do, don’t brush these curiosities and concerns away as petty or silly. These are some of your greatest opportunities to prepare your tweens for the teen years. Take advantage of them to draw your tweens to God’s Word. Pray with them. Disciple them in their questions. And as you do that, watch your relationships with them grow stronger and stronger.
From Tween to Teen
The teen years don’t have to be marked by rebellion, anger, and drama. These can be years woven with joy, peace, and healthy relationships. These can be the years when teens embrace wisdom, make gracious and godly friends, honor their parents, grow through failure, and learn humility. These can be the years when teens do great and glorious things for the kingdom of God. But to raise teens who follow Jesus, you need to raise tweens who follow Jesus. Preparing for the teen years starts now.