This is your brain on Middle School

Last week, the radio program This American Life did a terrific show on the phenomenon known as Middle School. Among the many things that I found revelatory was this information from Linda Perlstein, author of Not Much Just Chillin: The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers. She suggests that because of how the brain develops, it’s what you do, what you think about, what you practice at the age of 11 and 12 sticks with you to a high degree.

This, of course, made me think about youth ministry and the perennial question of what is the best age for confirmation. If what Perlstein says is correct, then there’s a strong argument to be made that all our efforts to encourage youth to be confirmed in their late teens are working against their natural inclinations—and against the church’s long term interests!

Of course there’s no one right age to be confirmed and I would hate to think we would promote using teen brain development as a kind of manipulative tool to get kids to stay in church. Mostly, what this interview, and this whole episode, reiterated is that there are real people in those crazy middle schooler bodies and minds. We would do well always to remember that. Do not discount their experiences or their insights because in all of their confusion and moodiness, they too are gifts to the Church and children of God.