Craig is an awesome middle school volunteer leader who serves at my previous church. One year at a fall retreat he wanted to hang out with one of our students named Evan. Evan was quirky and aloof but he carried himself in a way that endeared him to adults.
Craig, wanting to be a good leader and spend quality time with Evan, asked Evan what he wanted to do. Evan’s answer surprised Craig, but he went along with it and they ended up having a great time.
Evan had invented his own game. He wasn’t interested in the “regular” games other kids were playing because he wasn’t athletic.
His invented game was simple. You and a partner would go to one of the wood chip piles on the camp property and take turns throwing wood chips at each other, one at a time.
That was it. No rules. No point system. Just throwing wood chips back and forth and trying not to get hit.
Evan had the time of his life with Craig. Craig had fun because the game’s randomness and simplicity amused him and because he got to see Evan having fun.
Later that day as he was sharing about his time in the wood chip pile with Evan I overheard Craig say something I haven’t forgotten. He said, “I wanted to spend time with Evan doing something we would both enjoy doing, like playing basketball. When I found myself playing that wood chip game with him I realized that having fun with middle school boys means you’ll end up doing things you don’t necessarily want to do. You need to be willing to have fun doing the things they want to do.”
Craig’s observation is something all parents probably learn at some point. (Craig didn’t have kids of his own.) Kids aren’t necessarily going to like doing the same things as you. You need to be willing to try the things they enjoy doing if you want to connect with them. This is also true for youth workers and the students they interact with.
Having fun with kids in their own way is especially important for adults interacting with middle school boys even though their tastes and preferences tend to be mind-blowingly random, inexplicable, and asinine.
As the adults in their lives we would be wise to act humbly and do our best to just go along with the silly activities that middle school boys qualify as being “fun.” (That’s assuming the activities are safe, appropriate and at least morally neutral.) That often means swallowing your pride, stepping outside of your comfort zone, being selfless, and resurrecting your inner child for at least a moment.
Be prepared for anything and everything. And if you end up playing Wood Chip Dodgeball with a quirky un-athletic middle school boy, you can’t tell me I didn’t warn you.