Digging Deeper: Understanding High School Learners

Digging Deeper: Understanding High School Learners


If high-school teens (Grades 9, 10, 11, & 12) could describe themselves, here are some things they might tell us. Keep in mind that these are just characteristics of many teens. The fifteen-year-old who does feel good about herself, or the seventeen-year-0ld who’s still very attached to his parents aren’t necessarily “gifted” or “slow” – they’re just on their own developmental timetables.

  • I’m forging my own identity, struggling to “be real,” to be myself. I’m constantly searching for ways to express who I’m coming to believe I am.
  • In particular, I’m trying to understand my gender identity. “I want to be a man.” “I want to be a woman.” What does that mean?
  • I’m separating from my parents and family, finding support among my peers. My social group is of primary importance, especially friends of the same sex.
  • I’m starting to accept some of the beliefs and traditions I rejected only a few years ago. I’m thinking them through and embracing them as my own. Asking tough spiritual questions helps my faith grow.
  • I ask lots of questions (in my head, if not aloud), and canned answers don’t cut it. If you expect me to listen to you, be authentic and don’t pretend to know what you don’t know – I’ll see through it. Be willing to wrestle with me over what’s really important in life and faith.
  • When I start high school, I generally make my decisions based on what is best for whatever group I’m in. As I finish up high school, I’m starting to make moral decisions based on what’s best for everyone, not just my friends, church or family, but the broader community . . . even the world.
  • I’m likely to struggle with feelings of inadequacy, lack of self-esteem and troubling questions about my future. What kind of adult am I becoming? Will people like me? What will I look like? Will I find work? Will I succeed in college? Will I get married? Will I have a future?
  • Physically, I’m transitioning to full adulthood. But my emotions and experiences don’t yet match my physical development and strength.
  • I’m fascinated by the opposite sex, or same sex if I identify as a gay person. Relating, dating, sexuality – all are challenging and confusing. You tell me that sexuality is a gift – so why do I feel frustrated and guilty?
  • I’m now able to think independently, critically, logically, and inductively. This is new and empowering. Give me opportunities to process without limiting me.
  • Expect me to be opinionated.
  • Model for me what it means to be a growing Christian adult. Show me how to be open to new ideas, yet strong in faith, compassionate, accepting, . . .
  • I’m aware of the needs and feelings of others, and willing to help others when given the opportunity, whether in our group, in our church, or in the community. For the first time, injustice and oppression bother me, and I can feel overwhelmed by the pain I see.
  • I spend a lot of time worrying about and working on personal appearance.
  • I want you and the church to accept me as valuable with something to contribute. Give me something meaningful to do.
  • I like to daydream. It’s one way I work through the changes I’m experiencing and my options for the future.
  • I’m becoming more aware of and able to articulate what I’m feeling. My sensitivity to feelings now extends to others as well.
  • My language skills have take major leaps forward; I can put complex ideas and feelings into words.
  • I deal with a lot of pressure at home, at school and out in the community, constantly facing choices involving drugs, sex, prejudice, violence, hedonism, abuse, intolerance. I need a safe space to decompress, to be heard, to relax and be myself without fear of rejection.

This list comes from How to Lead High School Groups from Living the Good News, a lectionary-based curriculum for all ages. 


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