In explaining Confirmation to parents and students, I have said dozens of times that when it happens doesn’t really matter. Some churches do it in 8th grade, others 9th. John Westerhoff, the influential Christian educator, thought it should be saved for college. I’ve said over and over again that what matters more than when.
There is no way that’s true though.
Take Westerhoff’s suggestion off the table (I don’t know a single person who experienced anything like Confirmation as a college student) and focus just on the 8th vs 9th grade question. There is a world of difference between the experience of an 8th grader and a 9th grader in most contexts in North America. Not only has the 9th grader experienced an additional year of emotional and physical development, but her life as a high school freshman is ordered in fundamentally different ways that it was when she was still in junior high. She is in a new school, often with new peers, trying new activities. She is beginning things.
What Confirmation is, then, to a 9th grader, is substantively different than what it is for an 8th grader. It’s not better or worse, but it most certainly is different.
Many youth ministers I know have complained about 8th grade Confirmation as a kind of graduation from church. Frankly, I don’t see how you can avoid that when you do Confirmation in the 8th grade. So much of the final year of middle school seems tied up in endings. The 8th grade graduation is a thing I never experienced, but it seems pretty common now. For church kids, it’s part of the same season as Confirmation. I don’t know how you avoid it getting subsumed under that same rubric.
The when shapes the what in Confirmation, even if the difference is only one year.