Will Smith Once Said

Helping parents understand their preteen

Ministries / Preteen //

Will Smith once said, “Kids all across the land. There’s no need to argue. Parents just don’t understand.”  This was my attitude toward parents.  After seven years as a public school teacher, and seven years as a pastor, I’ve seen many parents make ignorant and harmful choices, which have had a negative impact on their kids.  Did I see my role as partnering with parents? Sure, but much in the way a maid partners with a rock band—cleaning up their messes.

I’ll never forget when I first heard the term “Family Ministry.”  I felt great resistance toward it.  This is generally the case when something profoundly challenges my thinking and threatens to revolutionize my approach.  Yes, the biblical model involves parents having the primary responsibility for their children’s spiritual development, but my prideful thought was, “Come on! What parent is as equipped as I am or cares as much as I do?”  My approach to working with preteens had been working just fine—rescue these kids from the negative impact that their ill-informed and ill-equipped parents were having on them.

It’s laughable to me now as I think back on it, but that really was my attitude.

Slowly, though, I’ve started to comprehend the merit of what family ministry people are saying.  I do see the value in helping to uphold God’s model of spiritual development.  And I do see that a parent’s influence on a preteen can be immensely greater than mine.  And since I really do care about preteens, I work at partnering with parents in new ways—ways that are so much more powerful than just trying to erase their negative influence.  Allow me to share with you four of them.


As kids move from our church’s “Jungle Quest” children’s ministries to “Elevate” preteen ministries at the beginning of fourth grade, we invite all parents to attend a meeting.  This meeting accomplishes several things, including introducing parents and preteens …

  • to the space that they’ll be in for Elevate
  • to an overview of the program
  • to the volunteers
  • to the opportunities they have to serve.

BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY, at this meeting, we offer information about what parents and preteens can expect developmentally during the preteen years.  We hand out resources, such as the comprehensive document “Young Adolescents’ Developmental Characteristics” authored by the National Middle School Association.  This resource looks at the changes that 10- to 15-year-olds undergo.  We point out the differences between children’s and youth ministries and how the preteen years are a bridge between the two.  We hand out “The Bike” article (which you can find at or in the July/August 2010 issue of K! Magazine) which explains an effective way of interacting with the changes preteens are going through.

Recently, a parent approached me to tell me what a difference that parent meeting made in understanding their preteen; and thus, in the relationship with their child. If I can set parents up to expect and understand the changes their preteens are going to go through, it can really serve both the preteen and the parent in a profound way.



What Will Smith said is true, “Parents just don’t understand.”  I know this because I am a parent of a 3- and 5-year-old.  Sometimes, I don’t understand their behavior whatsoever.  What I do understand, though, is preteens.  And as much as I thrive on insight from somebody who really gets 3- and 5-year-olds, I believe I can assist parents in understanding their preteens.

Just yesterday, a parent of a preteen shared with me that they were unsure what to do about something.  Their daughter, Rylie, had been coming home from school saying that her teacher was really mean and she was feeling like a huge failure.  Rylie felt as if the teacher hated her and shared some of the things that the teacher had said to her which made her feel that way.  I felt excitement welling up in me, because I had some insight to offer on the situation.  Then, I said, “This is a common occurrence for preteens, especially girls.  Mostly because preteens are great observers, but not always great interpreters.”  Through our conversation, Rylie’s parents came to understand that perhaps the problem was that Rylie had never interacted with somebody with a personality like her new teacher.  She needed help knowing how to understand and interact with her teacher.

Because of our experience, you and I have insight to offer parents, which can greatly help them as they maneuver through some situations that they just don’t understand.  We can open the door to parents with e-mails that ask, “How can I pray for you and your preteen?” or setting up FaceBook groups for parents where you can ask things like, “What struggles do you face in understanding your preteen’s behavior?”  Open the door for questions and then offer your insight.  Maybe then, parents can start to understand.



We have recently begun a Father/Son and Mother/Daughter program for preteens and their parents.  Developmentally, preteens are moving toward ownership of their faith, their decisions, and their lives.  Preteens are sometimes unsure how their parents are going to fit in to this changing paradigm.  Parents, likewise, feel a shift, and are unsure what their role is as their preteens take their first steps of autonomy.  We have started a program to help parents and their preteens maneuver these tricky waters.  Both programs meet once a month and include three “Es”: a time of ENCOURAGEMENT, an activity to ENGAGE them, and tools to EQUIP them in developing a stronger relationship with one another.  In addition, they are given tasks, including a Bible study, which they complete together throughout the month and bring back to the next month’s meeting.



My wife, my children, and I all have different tasks around the house—cleaning the windows, feeding the cats, etc.  Sometimes, one of us gets sick or is extra busy with something else.  At those times, we fill in the gaps for each other, picking up the slack for each other and supporting one another.  Sometimes, parents of preteens need us to fill in the gaps.  The death of a spouse or a divorce can leave a gap which we can help to fill.  Sometimes, especially with single parents, there is a gap that we can help fill.  Sure, it’s their responsibility to raise their child, but sometimes we all need a little help with our responsibilities; we, as a church, can find ways to help out where needed.


As I write this article, I think about you and the many preteens in your ministry.  Rather than taking the prideful approach of rescuing your preteens, I hope that this article will infuse your efforts and impact your preteens.  And, if we can all learn to embrace this “body of Christ” approach with the families of our churches, think of the strength that will surround, protect, and guide the preteens in all of our ministries.





About the Author

Sean Sweet leads a preteen ministry with his wife and two beautiful daughters in Rocklin, California. He is the director for the Preteen Leaders' Conference and a founding member of In addition, he loves Baja Fresh and his Snuggie.