Middle school marks what is perhaps a bittersweet time for new middle level parents as their child begins the journey toward young adulthood. The three years of middle school are a time of intense physical, academic, social, and emotional growth. It is the extraordinary changes our students undergo that make this stage of development unique and remarkable.
One of my favorite assignments when I was a language arts teacher was to have students talk with parents about when they were middle school age. This was a great middle school assignment because students in the 11-14 range begin to see the world and their parents in a different light. They begin to see a context for their own lives by finding a place in their families, a culture, a religious tradition and even an era. Talking – and laughing – about how times have changed allows students to see a bit of evolution. It could also portray the importance of time-tested values and traditions and help students to understand their stage of development within the cycle of life. The sweetest reward is that they actually talk to their parents, something that becomes more challenging when students enter preadolescence
For those of us who resort to using the expression “When I was your age…,” we probably see a past that was different in some way, definitely simpler, slower, less sophisticated. On the other hand, I am sure some would argue that some things were not very different, such as the pressure to do well in school, participate in sports and community events, and achieve success.
What is incontrovertible, though, is how the use and accessibility of technology has so drastically changed the world, with implications for how students spend their time, obtain information, and remain safe.
Middle level learners look and act more like adults than children. Even though they possess a level of sophistication, they can be vulnerable and unsuspecting. They typically have huge hearts and want to help others, and they want to trust that others are as trustworthy.
Peer pressure, the eternal and external pressure to be accepted not as a unique individual but as one of the group, can cause internal conflicts about identity as well as beliefs and values. Negotiating the social stratosphere can be a challenge for individuals of any age.
Keep the lines of communication open. Encourage children to share what is happening and how they feel without hounding them or judging them. The hypocrisy meter is always running inside preadolescents; they will want to see that the adults in their lives really believe what they preach and act in accordance with those beliefs. In a world greatly accelerated since the time when you and I were preadolescents, students need to know they have someone special who is there to listen and who appreciates the complexities of their developmental challenges as well as the vastly different world they are inhabiting.
During this month of the young adolescent, we all need to recognize what is without a doubt the greatest period of growth since the time they were infants. It is a great age, and those of us who choose to teach and work with middle level learners know that we can influence, shape and hopefully inspire our students. We share their parents’ hopes and dreams about the young adults that they are about to become.