Tag Archives: transition metaphors

the overlapping transition of middle school

i’m writing one of my final chapters for the middle school ministry book. here’s a bit i’ve just written:

Do you remember the video game called “Frogger”? You controlled a little frog who was trying to cross a street or a river. You could move left and right, forward and backward. On the street scenes, the goal was to jump, off the safety of the starting curb, into the spaces between the cars and trucks. There was a little median in the middle, before hopping through traffic going the other direction. On the river levels, the goal was the opposite: jump onto the moving turtles and Lilly pads before they submerged.

In both cases, the objective was the same: leave the safety of one curb or shore, navigate through the potentially life-ending obstacles of the transitionary space, and—hopefully—arrive at the safety of the far curb or shore.

For many years of middle school ministry, we thought of the middle school experience this way. We pictured, in our minds eye, pre-teens ambling up to the shore of a turbulent river. Then, at puberty, we pictured them wading into the swirling shallows, eventually moving out to depths beyond their ability to stand, and battling the currents, waves and eddies of early adolescence.

We pictured, as we handed them off to the middle teen or high school years, that they were arriving at some kind of far shore. What, exactly, that far shore was didn’t really factor into this metaphor too much (maybe it was just the median?).

But, after many years, and working with thousands of middle schoolers, we have come to see that this metaphor is flawed. The “Frogger transition”, or any metaphor that pictures leaving safety, moving into transitionary space, and arriving at some kind of post-transitionary space, is not the experience of real middle school kids.

Instead, the shores (or curbs) of that metaphor need to trade places. In other words, early adolescence is an overlapping transition. The transitionary space in the middle is both/and, rather than no longer/not yet.

i’ve talked about this metaphorical shift in my thinking in seminars for years. but, as i wrote this, i realized i didn’t really have a replacement metaphor, other than the idea of the shores trading places (which, of course, kind of deconstructs the metaphor!).

anyone want to suggest a metaphor that reflects this overlapping nature of transition? i thought of a president elect (since we have one right now!), who is already but not yet the president. but i think we can come up with something better than that.

i’ll certainly credit you in the book (in a footnote) if you suggest something that fits!