If you have spent any time with middle or high school students you know one thing is true. Freedom matters to them. Often, they want more freedom or become overwhelmed with the freedom they do have. The truth is that many middle and high school students can be motivated by freedom. That’s why we believe that freedom in your faith is an important topic to talk about with middle schoolers and high schoolers. It’s also why we’re talking about in our new series, “The Whole Point” for XP3 Middle School and “What I Really Want” for XP3 High School. But with any topic, the way we talk about it will differ in order to meet each teen’s unique phase. This is especially important when it comes to a topic like freedom. Because type of freedom that your middle schoolers have is drastically different than the type of freedom your high schoolers have.
TALKING ABOUT FREEDOM WITH MIDDLE SCHOOLERS
For starters, freedom is an abstract concept for most of us. It’s even more abstract for middle schoolers. Their brains think concretely, so something like freedom may be difficult for them to grasp in a conversation like this one.
Most middle schoolers are still bound by rules—rules at home, rules at school, rules on the team, rules for social media. Freedom feels like the absolute last thing they can have right now! So, as you start this conversation with your middle schoolers, keep these three things in mind:
1. Use concrete examples.
Middle schoolers are naturally craving freedom in this phase. Chances are, they view freedom as the absence of rules. They want the freedom to stay up as late as they want. Be friends with who they want. Eat the dinner they want. DM whoever they want—the list goes on. But the freedom we’re focusing on in this series isn’t the absence of rules necessarily. It’s the freedom that we have in our faith because of Jesus.
This conversation is abstract, so be sure to use concrete examples that help them understand freedom in their faith. In a phase where this “faith” thing might be a new conversation, remind them they have freedom in their faith choices. We want to teach our middle schoolers that they have freedom to make wise choices now that will impact their lives positively later. Let’s be sure to break down what those wise choices now look like.
Examples: If you’re honest with your parents about who you’re hanging out with now, they’ll be more likely to trust you as time goes on. Or if you continue practicing that song on the guitar, chances are you’ll get closer to mastering it in the future. If you choose to do your homework now, you’ll understand the questions on the test later.
2. Challenge them to think outside their context of “freedom.”
Through these faith conversations, challenge them to think beyond their definition of freedom. AKA – “the ability to do everything I’m not allowed to now.” Talk about what it means to have freedom in your faith. This looks like not living for the approval of others, making wise choices, and loving others instead of judging them. In these conversations, emphasize the increased freedom that comes with each of those things. This series is designed to help middle and high schoolers recognize where they have freedom. (Even if it’s not the exact kind of freedom they are desiring in this phase.)
3. Be careful not to frame the parent or guardian (AKA their “rule setter”) as the enemy in the conversation.
While middle schoolers wrestle with the concept of freedom, they’ll naturally talk about the “rules” that they’re expected to follow. And of course, they will voice their feelings about following them. But as they share, be intentional about the how you respond. They may not be happy about the rules or thrilled about the adult setting them. That’s okay. In this time, take the opportunity to partner with their parent or guardian by acknowledging that healthy rules are good and helpful. Especially in middle school.
TALKING ABOUT FREEDOM WITH HIGH SCHOOLERS
Part of becoming a high schooler means beginning to experience more and more freedom. They start to have more say in things they want to do. High schoolers start gaining the freedom to choose which classes they take. Or pick where they’ll work after school. They even start choosing which roles to try-out for in the teams they join. As the freedom they have increases, their responsibility is increasing along with it. Whether they are fully aware of this or not! So, here are a few reminders when talking to your high schoolers about more freedom:
1. Remember that freedom looks different for each of them—especially for underclassmen and upperclassmen.
Underclassmen may still feel some of the tensions that middle schoolers are feeling when it comes to their (seeming lack of) freedom. Meanwhile, upperclassmen are experiencing a level of freedom that they have never had before. They should be encouraged to use their increased freedom wisely. And yet, not all “freedom” looks like freedom to teenagers. Depending on the family dynamics and sub-cultures within your community, the freedoms older teens gain may look more like raised expectations and added responsibilities.
For example, if you have a car now, you’re expected to pick up your younger sibling up on your way home. If you have a job, you’re expected to help out with buying groceries. With upperclassmen, we shouldn’t assume they are beginning to gain more freedom in the traditional sense. With that, we should talk to them in a way that helps them see that responsibility now is a type of freedom—an opportunity to prove their trustworthiness. And that equals more freedom later. Help them see this is a positive thing that can be used for good, instead of an increased burden for them to carry.
2. Remind them that freedom doesn’t equal entitlement.
Some high schoolers may need to be reminded that the increased freedom does not give them permission to do whatever they want. Keep in mind that not all teens have this entitlement mentality. Yet some teens may not even be aware that they do have this mentality, so some will need this reminder! A gentle reminder may shape this conversation and help your students re-frame the conversation of freedom as it relates to our faith.
3. Be careful not to minimize or be sarcastic about the freedom that they do have.
Chances are, the freedoms that a high schooler does have might not seem like that much freedom to you, an adult. But here’s the thing: They’ve never experienced more freedom in their life than they are experiencing right now. So, as they recognize that freedom, get excited about it with them! Remember, freedom for high schoolers isn’t just what they get to do. It’s also about this new autonomy to dream-out-loud about what they could get a chance to do. So, in a weird way, listening to them weigh the options about how to spend the summer, or their next check, or their evening time after school for the 19th time is one way you affirm their freedom.
Our team at Orange Students is so pumped to hear about the conversations about freedom with your middle schoolers and high schoolers this Summer! We’d love to hear how it goes over in the Orange Students: A Youth Ministry Community Facebook group! And, if you don’t use Orange Curriculum, but you want to learn more or talk to your students about freedom this Summer, go to tryorangefree.com.