Understanding Your Middle School Student

Middle school is an exciting, yet challenging time for students. During this passage into adolescence, middle school students explore a variety of interests and search for their own unique identity. They may begin turning more frequently to peers rather than parents for ideas and affirmation,have extreme sensitivity to the comments from others, and find support in friends to provide comfort, understanding and approval.

Middle School Characteristics

Intellectual Development:

  • Are in a transition period from concrete thinking to abstract thinking
  • Are intensely curious and have a wide range of intellectual pursuits, few of whichare sustained
  • Prefer active over passive learning experiences
  • Prefer interaction with peers during learning activities
  • Respond positively to opportunities to participate in real life situations
  • Are often preoccupied with self
  • Have a strong need for approval and may be easily discouraged
  • Develop an increasingly better understanding of personal abilities
  • Are inquisitive about adults, often challenging their authority, and always observing them
  • May show disinterest in conventional academic subjects but are intellectually curious about the world and themselves
  • Are developing a capacity to understand higher levels of humor

Moral Development:

  • Are generally idealistic, desiring to make the world a better place
  • Are in transition from moral reasoning which focuses on "what's in it for me" to that which considers the feelings and rights of others
  • Often show compassion for those who are downtrodden or suffering and have specialconcern for animals and the environmental problems that our world faces
  • Are moving from acceptance of adult moral judgments to development of their own personal values; nevertheless, they tend to embrace values consonant with thoseof their parents
  • Rely on parents and significant adults for advice when facing major decisions
  • Increasingly assess moral matters in shades of grey as opposed to viewing them in black and white terms characteristic of younger children
  • At times are quick to see flaws in others but slow to acknowledge their own faults
  • Owing to their lack of experience are often impatient with the pace of change,underestimating the difficulties in making desired social changes
  • Arecapable of and value direct experience in participatory democracy
  • Greatlyneed and are influenced by adult role models who will listen to them and affirm their moral consciousness and actions as being trustworthy role models
  • Are increasingly aware of and concerned about inconsistencies between values exhibited by adults and the conditions they see in society

Physical Development:

  • Experience rapid, irregular physical growth
  • Undergo bodily changes that may cause awkward, uncoordinated movements
  • Have varying maturity rates, with girls tending to mature one and one-half to two years earlier than boys
  • Maybe at a disadvantage because of varied rates of maturity that may require the understanding of caring adults
  • Experience restlessness and fatigue due to hormonal changes
  • Need daily physical activity because of increased energy
  • Develop sexual awareness that increases as secondary sex characteristicsbegin to appear
  • Are concerned with bodily changes that accompany sexual maturation and changes resulting in an increase in nose size, protruding ears, long arms, and awkward posture
  • Have preference for junk foods but need good nutrition
  • Often lack physical fitness, with poor levels of endurance, strength, and flexibility
  • Are physically vulnerable because they may adopt poor health habits

Emotional/Psychological Development:

  • Experience mood swings often with peaks of intensity and unpredictability
  • Need to release energy, often resulting in sudden, apparently meaningless outbursts of activity
  • Seek to become increasingly independent, searching for adult identity and acceptance
  • Are increasingly concerned about peer acceptance
  • Tend to be self-conscious, lacking in self-esteem, and highly sensitive to personal criticism
  • Exhibit intense concern about physical growth and maturity as profound physical changes occur
  • Increasingly behave in ways associated with their sex as sex role identification strengthens
  • Are concerned with many major societal issues as personal value systems develop
  • Believe that personal problems, feelings, and experiences are unique to themselves
  • Are psychologically vulnerable, because at no other stage in development are they more likely to encounter so many differences between themselves and others.

Social Development:

  • Have a strong need to belong to a group, with peer approval becoming more important as adult approval decreases in importance
  • In their search for self, model behavior after older, esteemed students or non-parent adults
  • May exhibit immature behavior because their social skills frequently lag behind their mental and physical maturity
  • Experiment with new slang and behaviors as they search for a social position within their group, often discarding these "new identities" at a later date
  • Must adjust to the social acceptance of early maturing girls and the athletic successes of early maturing boys, especially if they themselves are maturing at a slower rate
  • Are dependent on parental beliefs and values but seek to make their own decisions
  • Desire recognition for their efforts and achievements
  • Like fads, especially those shunned by adults
  • Often overreact to ridicule, embarrassment, and rejection
  • Are socially vulnerable because, as they develop their beliefs, attitudes, and values, the influence of media and negative experiences with adults and peers may compromise their ideals and values