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April 14, 2015 / BTM

The Top Needs and Biggest Fear of 10 – 14 Year Olds



I mentioned in a previous post that our oldest child will soon be 10 and is already showing signs of moving into the next phase of childhood (note: I cannot quite bring myself to say ‘adulthood’ yet!).  It’s stunning to think that we have a middle-schooler in our house.

I’ve talked about how we are starting to change the focus of his Christian upbringing.  Recently, I came across an excellent broadcast by Focus on the Family that featured Cynthia Tobias and Sue Acuña.  The broadcast provides some insight into some of the top needs of kids ages 10-14.  I found it to be very insightful.

Ten to fourteen is a tough age.  The relationship that you forge with your middle schooler during these years will be foundational to your relationship with him or her into high school.  How do you start to get inside that increasingly confusing headspace?

Tobias and Acuña provide these insights into the top needs and the top fear of 10-14 year olds:

Need #1: To be listened to

When our children are small, we naturally fall into the habit of managing them.  Micro-managing them, perhaps.  They really can’t do things for themselves.  They really do need managing.  But something begins to change as they approach ages 9 and 10 that some of us miss.  Its at these ages that we need to start to relate to them differently.

Tobias and Acuña liken this change to moving away from being a ‘manager’ to being a ‘consultant’.  A consultant listens to what the problems are, gives some advice, and then steps back and allows the child to choose to listen to the advice (and succeed) or to not listen (and possibly fail or face consequences).  In their words, your hand is still on the wheel, but you don’t grip it as tightly.

By the time your kids reach 10, you need to stop making decisions for them.  Instead, start listening to what they are saying and discuss solutions to their problems with them, in order to come up with solutions together.

Need #2: To be understood

How to you show your middle schooler that you understand them?  Tobias and Acuña say: empathy.  Instead of reacting to what they say, try to understand what is behind what they are saying.  If they say they hate their teacher, figure out what the issue is, rather than correcting their behaviour (“Don’t use that word ‘hate’!”).  It’s about respecting them as people – through your tone of voice and your words.

Need #3: To be taken seriously

During the middle school years, kids are launching out on a search of who they are and who they are becoming.  They are beginning to ask questions about ‘why we do what we do’, such as: “Why do we go to that church?”;, “Why do we spend our time on X”; “Why do I have to do Y”; and possibly most significantly: “What if God doesn’t exist?”.

It’s a strange age where they begin to ask spiritual questions, have doubts, become absorbed in themselves, and have emotions that are out of whack.  Telling them not to worry about things that worry them is not taking them seriously.  Telling them that they’ve got it easy and that things will only get harder is not taking them seriously.

Tobias and Acuña suggest that we try to remember what it was like when we were our child’s age, and try to take his or her fears, questions, and doubts seriously.  Tell your kids that God is big enough to face their doubts, and that He can help them to begin to explore those doubts – including doubting the significance of their doubts (more on that some other time).

Here are some common ways that parents communicate to their children that they are not taking them seriously: interrupting when they speak; judging what they say; getting distracted when they speak; or belittling their fears as unimportant or insignificant.

#1 Fear: Looking Stupid In Front of Peers

Kids at this age already have a keen fear of inferiority or of being less worthwhile than other kids.  They compare themselves to others all the time.  Looking stupid in front of their peers could lead to rejection.  Perhaps they’re realizing that some of their childhood dreams – like becoming an NHL superstar – are out of their reach.  Maybe they’re beginning to see their shortcomings as compared to their peers at school.

Help them to value who they are and what their strong points are.  Not all of these will be evaluated on a report card or at a track meet.  Perhaps they are well organized, or good as listening, or are gifted in logic.  Emphasize these skills , but realize that they’ll think you are biased.  All the same, your praise does count.

#1 Goal for Parents of Middle Schoolers

To make your child feel unique and special.

This needs to be done continuously, intentionally, with focus, in collaboration with your spouse, and through God’s help.  But this is what your child really needs during this age bracket in particular.  Keep this goal in mind as you think of training your kids up in their faith and in all aspects of growing up.

For a much more comprehensive overview of these points, listen to the podcast or order Tobias and Acuña’s book: Middle School – The Inside Story.

Do you have middle schoolers?  Do these points resonate with you?  Why or why not?



Leave a Comment
  1. Carrie / Apr 14 2015 10:19 pm

    Just today, Ella (7) expressed a fear to me of the possibility of others making fun of her because of her hand-me-down bike being red (vs. girlie colors). Instead of “hearing” and empathizing, I was quick to correct her in how she doesn’t have to use it at all, should be thankful for anything, how my car is not a Porsche, and I don’t get to use a presidential jet… Your post was timely in helping me to see that I failed to connect with her fears. What I thought was logical reasoning, led her to feel that I was being mean. She is unfortunately already asleep, but I intend/plan to apologize for my quick response in the morning. Thanks for sharing the great tips you are learning!

    • BTM / Apr 16 2015 2:55 pm

      Thanks for sharing. Although she is younger than the age I’m talking about, it would seem to me that feeling ‘heard’ would help any child feel loved and like their feelings and opinions matter in daily decisions.

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