Adolescence is an awkward and chaotic stage of human development, for youth as well as adults. With one foot in childhood and the other leaping towards adulthood, 10- to 15-year-olds are adjusting to many rapid and dramatic cognitive, emotional, physical, and social changes. The only other time we experience such intense growth and development is from birth to age 3.
With all that intense change going on, it’s no surprise that teaching students in the middle grades can be challenging. But it’s also packed with potential.
—Erik Erikson, developmental psychologist
At no other time in the life cycle are the chances of finding one’s self and losing one’s self so closely aligned.
3 reasons why working with middle school students is awesome
1. They’re adaptable
Middle schoolers have many special qualities that make them unique. At this age, the teen brain is adaptable, resilient, and ready to take in new information. As their thoughts grow more complex, so does their curiosity, creativity, empathy, and craving for intellectual inspiration and social interaction — all the ingredients needed for an active and engaged learner!
2. They’re reaching their potential
Academically, middle school is seen as the bridge from the laid-back elementary school climate to the demanding high school world. But it goes much further. Findings from an ACT study, “The Forgotten Middle,” show that “the level of academic achievement that students attain by 8th grade has a larger impact on their college and career readiness by the time they graduate from high school than anything that happens academically in high school.”
Middle school provides a safe learning environment for students to test their strengths and identify areas of growth. It gives them the opportunities to explore and expand their understanding of themselves and others, and even make mistakes.
3. They are surprisingly mature
Middle school isn’t focused on academic content alone. Middle school plays a critical role in meeting students’ social and emotional needs. Those who work with early adolescent learners are familiar with their idiosyncrasies, such as acting childish one moment, then surprisingly profound the next. They realize they have to provide a learning environment that is relevant, challenging, integrative, and exploratory so students can grow, not only as a learner but as a person.
Middle schoolers face issues every day that shape their habits and values. They are figuring out their personal identity and making their own decisions, some of which will have lasting effects.
3 tips to help you raise healthy middle school kids
While it might seem that your middle school kid is independent and self-sufficient, it’s important that parents and guardians are actively involved in their lives. Being involved when they make life-impacting choices — from friends to study habits — can positively impact your child’s chances for a successful and healthy future.
1. Let them make their own experiences
Involvement shouldn’t be confused with overseeing every aspect of your teen’s life. You need to let them explore and, at times, participate in age-appropriate risks. Try to remember what you were like at that age and reflect the people who positively influenced your life.
2. Be interested in them and what they’re doing
Stay open-minded but pay attention and be interested in what your teen is doing. Ask questions about their school, their activities, their friends. Listen to them and respect their opinions, even if you may not agree with them.
3. Give them the tools they need to succeed
To support their academic success, start by sending your child to school ready to learn with healthy meals and plenty of sleep — about nine hours to be exact! Know their school and attend their events, like parent-teacher conferences that keep you in the loop, or concerts and sports games.
Remember that homework is starting to get intense in middle school but students can learn to have great organizational and study skills. Providing distraction-free areas for studying and the supplies they need to complete their assignments can help. Don’t forget to check in with your child about their homework and class loads to ensure they are not feeling too overwhelmed.
Setting middle schoolers up for success
Whether you’re an educator or a parent, a supportive environment both at home and at school is essential for middle schoolers to make wise and healthy decisions. These funny, honest human beings will test boundaries while they are learning and developing, and they need you to support them through it.
If you asked a middle schooler to articulate what they need from the adults in their life, it might look like this:
- Acknowledge my feelings and perspective.
- Listen without judgment to my opinions even if they are different from yours, or just when I need to rant. Ask questions that can help me think through my issues.
- Trust that I can manage my responsibilities. Be ready to offer help but let me ask for it first.
- Learn from me. I’m learning so many things. Let me share that knowledge with you.
- Give me limits, but also give me choices.
- Be patient and give me some space. I’m really overwhelmed sometimes and just need some space to unwind.
- Include me in activities and decisions. Even if I say don’t act like I want to be involved, I want to know that my voice matters.
- Do more asking than telling.
Middle schoolers may be a handful, but they are capable of magnificent things. When given the proper encouragement, support, and the space to explore, middle schoolers can grow into caring and contributing citizens.