There are fundamental relational questions kids need to answer as they grow and develop:

  • In preschool the relational questions surround “Am I?” (impressions about themselves and the world): Am I safe? Am I able? Am I okay?
  • In elementary the relational questions surround “Do I have?” (related to skills and competencies that equip their future): Do I have your attention? Do I have what it takes? Do I have friends?
  • In middle school the relational questions surround “Who?” (challenging authority and personalizing belief): Who do I like? Who likes me? Who am I?
  • In high school the relational questions surround “Where?” “Why?” “How?” and “What?” (refining their unique abilities and developing a sense of purpose): Where do I belong? Why should I believe? Why can’t I? How can I matter? What will I do?

High School Specific

In high school, a teenager refines their unique abilities and develops a sense of purpose. The way a high schooler resolves the “Where,” “Why,” “How,” and “What” questions of life provides a compass for navigating their future direction. It affects the way they pursue community, live out a personal ethic, and contribute to a greater mission.

The best way to resolve a high schooler’s relational questions is to MOBILIZE their potential.

Practically speaking, here’s how to do that:

Where do I belong? Freshman are looking for a new tribe. When adults connect teens with similar interests, teens value community.

I wonder if 9th graders seek belonging because they are both stepping into high school as the youngest grade in the building and maybe looking to reinvent themselves if the identity formation of 7th and 8th grade didn’t quite go as planned as well as when deep friendship formation is occuring? In elementary it seems students have lots of friends…as long as one wants to play, anyone is your friend. In middle school the friend pool tends to narrow based on common interests and experiences. Once a student enters high school, their friendship sphere has narrowed to a handful that they can really get to know and invest in. That’s why who a high school students’ friends are should deeply matter to parents and small goup leaders because who one hangs out with and what kind of person they are will most definitely rub off on one another! Because belonging is so important to a 9th grade student, the kind of community we foster is important!

Why should I believe? Why can’t I? Sophomores want to challenge the limits. When adults listen carefully and respond with questions, teens clarify values.

This is when parents tend to freak out and seek out a pastor: “HELP! My daughter says she doesn’t believe in God anymore! What do I do?!” Well for one, don’t freak out. That’s the last thing they need. When questions and statements that challenge limits come up, the 10th grade student is wondering: “Can the adults in my life handle the hard questions I have? Or am I crazy?” Contrary to popular parental opinion, these students are just trying to get a reaction, they genuinely want to know the answers to their questions. We (parents and small group leaders) have the opportunity to respond with love, grace, and patience. The best posture I have discovered is not just telling them the answers, but coming alongside of them and searching for answers together. The best approach is not to directly answer, but investigate together (almost like you are playing dumb, even if you know or don’t know the answers!). This investigation teaches them that questions that test limits are okay, how we respond to them is important as well.

How can I matter? Juniors are ready to make a difference–now. When adults provide consistent opportunities to lead and serve, teens refine skills.

11th graders want to change the world. They are idealistic and enthusiastic…anything is possible. The last thing they need is an adult to be realistic with them! They will think you are old, outdated, and out-of-touch…and they might be right!! I wonder if our youth group’s recent trips overseas has helped with this. It seems like when these students are given opportunities to lead and serve they engage wholeheartedly. I also wonder if Charlene’s encouragement to do some service projects in the area (LCO and Duluth) is especially important in this grade.

What will I do? Seniors want to know where they are headed. When adults encourage experiences and simplify options, teens create vision.

High school seniors have no stress… they just have to figure out a life trajectory by the time they graduate or by the fall. No pressure! Significant adults in their life can offer a listening ear and be a source of ideas, encouragement and guidance. We all have wisdom to share all based on our own personal stories. What I have found over the years as I talk with graduating seniors is they crave experiences. They are ready for a new adventure on their own. They want the best experiences that are going to shape their life. I love hearing them and encouraging them. I wonder how often they get encouragement or not. Whatever the case, we have the opportunity to guide them by listening and encouraging…being a positive, excited person in their life. They all need that!

The chart above details the relational timeline from birth through graduation. You can click on it to make it bigger (or click here).

It’s fascinating to see how the questions change as a person gets older, isn’t it?! In fact, if we’re honest, most of us adults are still working through some of these same questions ourselves because we weren’t afforded the opportunity to answer them adequately when we were younger. But there is hope! It is never too late to engage with these questions!

Source: It’s Just a Phase So Don’t Miss It: Why Every Life Stage of a Kid Matters by Reggie Joiner & Kristin Ivy, pp. 106-107