How to Deal with Pre-teens
Having spent the past thirteen years in the classroom, I've been able to witness the complete chaos that often results from the onset of puberty. One day you are dealing with a perfectly rational upper elementary student who seems on the verge of putting away childish things and moving directly into mini-adulthood. The next day, this promising mini-human has suddenly transformed into gawky, gangling bundle of braying laughter and high-strung hormones who cannot seem to get out of his own way.
If you're not mentally prepared to deal with this transformation, I fear for your sanity. Fortunately, I've put together this short list of tips in order to help you cope.
How to Deal with Pre-teens:
1. Be aware that everything you say, no matter how simple, has a double meaning. You may not know the double meaning -- they might not even know -- but that doesn't change the fact that out there, somewhere, a double meaning for your statement does exist; therefore, this breed is perfectly justified in exchanging those sly, side-eyed glances over even the most innocent of comments, such as asking someone to pass the salt.
2. Know that farts are funny. Always. Ditto all other bodily noises: sneezes, coughs, nose whistles, popping joints, etc. Although these functions draw a lower score on the Humor Richter Scale than the fart, they still carry great potential for laughter.
3. Be prepared to acknowledge that most of their injuries are self-inflicted. If a pre-teen trips while headed to the front of a crowded classroom, it's not necessary to assume that another child has maliciously tripped him, or even that he has tripped over an actual object. It really is quite possible that for a nanosecond, he forgot what he was doing and just fell over. Or perhaps he momentarily forgot how to walk entirely. These things happen! And don't be shocked when one of them, for obscure reasons of his own, happens to be peering down the mini barrel of a mechanical pencil and shoots a point of lead directly into his own eye. This is just the sort of thing that this species occasionally does. Don't waste time trying to get to the bottom of why and how this has occurred, because chances are very high that if you ask him later what he thought he was doing by putting a pencil point up to his eye in the first place, he won't even know, let alone be able to explain to you the process of events that led to his shooting himself in his own eye with a mechanical pencil. The best thing you can do for your sanity is to give up trying to understand why members of this species do what they do and save your energy for dealing with each crisis as it comes along.
4. Don't touch their stuff. This has less to do with violations to their privacy and more to do with violations to principles of basic hygiene. Let's say that you forget yourself for a moment and borrow a pencil from a member of this species. It's standard to assume that this pencil will be simultaneously slimy, grimy, sticky, and evenly pitted with tiny rows of teeth marks. Short of boiling your own arm in a super-heated compound of hand sanitizer and straight bleach, there's little you can do to recover from such a slip. If you absolutely cannot avoid touching their stuff, the best thing that you can do for yourself is to invest in a HAZMAT suit.
5. Give them plenty of space. It helps with the smell. If you must, out of necessity, come in proximity to one of these creatures (perhaps to fish some pencil led out of his eye), it helps if you remember to breathe through your mouth. Short of carrying emergency rations of mints, Febreze, and spray deodorant at all times, there's not much you can do about this particular aspect of the pre-teen phase other than to grimace and bear it.
The truth is that like all other age segments, the pre-teen years come with their own set of pros and cons. Working with members of this species brings out the best and worst in all of us, taking us along for the ride from the sweeping heights of hysterical laughter to the bottomless depths of despondency (sometimes encompassing both extremes within a matter of minutes).
The best we can hope for is that God gives us grace to remember what these years were like for us and extend grace where grace is needed, firmness where firmness is needed, and wisdom where wisdom is needed.
And through it all, laughter.
Because laughter is always needed.