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Student Support Services Corner

Welcome to the The Student Support Services Corner

Middle School Years:

Many parents and educators describe their experience living/working with the middle school population as a roller coaster ride of emotions.  Instead, let’s look at the middle school years through the lens of a middle schooler.  By thinking about that roller coaster ride from this perspective:  have you ever ridden a roller coaster; recall the exhilaration of expectation, the sheer terror of the actual descent, and brief moments of calm during leveling off sections.  That is the day in the life of a middle schooler. 

Adapted from various sources of child development theory: 

Every child’s development is unique.  Although children develop through a usual and predictable sequence of milestones, every child has his or her own timetable.   In other words, not all children will reach the following developmental stages at the same time, but rather look at these stages of development as general frameworks or as a guide to what to expect across the middle school years.  

The Eleven Year Old 

Physical development
Vast appetite for food, physical activity and talking
Growth spurts of early adolescence for some girls, may feel awkward and clumsy
Girls ahead of guys in physical maturity; boys’ big growth spurt may not start until 12; Boys worry if they are ever going to grow up
Wide differences among individuals in rate of development
Curious about opposite sex; girls usually interested first
Tiredness; need for more sleep
Often uncomfortable with questions and observations about how much they have grown and physical changes
Increased need for personal hygiene

Social and Emotional Development:
Less overt affection and attention shown to parents, with occasional rudeness; tests limits
Impulsive unaware
Focus on self, alternating between high expectations and poor self-concept
Have tendency to return to childish behavior, particularly when stressed
Experience extremes of emotions
Inclusive/exclusion: height of cliques, seek to belong, discovery of telephone/social media
Experimenting with behavior, roles, appearance, self-image
Difficulty with decisions but need to be able to make some choices for themselves
Demand privileges, but may avoid responsibilities
Feel unique; believe that no one else has ever felt the way they do; suffered so much, or been so misunderstood

Intellectual Development:
Mostly interested in present, limited thoughts of the future
Intellectual interests expand
Increased ability to de-center and see world from various perspectives
Development of ideals and selection of role models
May experiment with dangerous risk taking behaviors
Even if students can make abstractions, they learn best when activities are active, hands-on and related to personal experiences. 
Concerned with rules, standards of behavior and fairness, especially for themselves
Do not distinguish between what they are thinking and what others may be thinking; assume that every other person is as concerned with their behavior and appearance as they are better at planning than carrying out the plan.

The Twelve Year Old

Physical Development
High energy but much rest needed
Growth spurts; girls ahead of boys; wide differences among individuals in rates of development
Physical activities and sports valued
Eating patterns change, over concern for dieting
Feel awkward and may worry about body
Increased need for personal hygiene

Social and Emotional Development
Struggle with sense of identity
Can be enthusiastic at some times; lethargic at other times
Friendships with both sexes are important
Complain that parents interfere with independence
More likely to express feelings through actions rather than words
Peer vocabulary (slang) important
Less overt affection and attention shown to parents, with occasional rudeness; test limits
Impulsive, unaware
Experience extremes of emotions
Inclusion/exclusion; height of cliques, seek to belong, discovery of phone/social media
Experimenting with behavior, roles, appearance, self image
Difficulty with decisions but need to be able to make some choices for themselves
Demand privileges, but may avoid responsibilities
Feel unique; believe that no one else has ever felt the way they do; suffered as much, or been so misunderstood.

Intellectual Development:
Hormonal and physical demands of puberty may cause slowing of rate of cognitive development during early adolescence
Increased ability to think abstract in intellectual pursuits
Learn best when involved in activities that are active, hands on, and related to real life
Concerned with rules, standards of behavior and fairness especially for themselves
Lack of understanding of cause and effect as well as feelings of omnipotence and invulnerability (“it can’t happen to me.”) can lead to dangerous risk taking behaviors (smoking drugs, drinking, etc..)
Mostly interested in present, limited thoughts of future
May show emerging ability in a particular skill or content area
Show improved abilities to use speech for self-expression
High interest in current events, politics, social justice; also pop culture, materialism
More consistent evidence of conscience
idealistic ; may offer “ideal” solutions to complex problems
Development of ideals and selection of role models
May question parents’ religious beliefs, political beliefs and other values

Reference “GCISD -Curriculum Guides and Developmental Characteristics “  Grapevine - Colleyville ISD.

The Thirteen year old:

The teenage brain is revved to learn.  The “use it or lose it” stage, which began in 6th grade, continues to ramp up.  Neural pathways that are used will be fortified and others that are not will be dumped.  This apparently helps the brain to take on and master new challenges.  

The prefrontal cortex (the impulse control and predicting future events center) continues to develop and is the last part of the brain to mature in adolescence.

 An 8th grader’s ability to judge risk or to make long-term plans is lagging, suggesting an increased need for guidance from trusted adults, not a decrease

Complains about the volume of homework but often secretly enjoys the challenge and their ability to meet teacher demands.

May be afraid of journal writing and revealing too much; or at the opposite extreme, may pour out their hearts to the teacher.

Does not do as well in cooperative groups as 7th graders or older teens - tends to argue and complain about fairness

Needs short, regular, predictable homework assignments to build good study habits

Thinks globally, but often can’t act locally.  For example, concerned about social justice issues, but often is still mean to others.

Can be a pain at home and a star at school or vise versa

Social/Emotional Behaviors:

More outwardly focused than at 12; compares and matches their “identify” with others.  Attempting to discover who they are, identifying strengths, and what kinds of roles they are best suited to play in their lives

Continues to be fascinated by group dynamics, hierarchy, how leaders emerge and the code of behavior required to be part of a group.  At this time of uncertain identity, cliques offer comfort and affirmation. During this time teenagers gravitate toward, and find security and pleasure in people who are like them.

Girls tend to focus on close relationships; boys tend to travel in small groups and engage in a lot of horseplay and practical jokes

Very concerned about personal appearance but unconcerned about the neatness of their personal environment (rooms at home; lockers and desks at school)

Feels tension between wanting grown ups to simultaneously notice them and yet to leave them alone.  Wants to be independent and appear grown up, however still very much depends on parents (for rides to activities) looking self-assured and confident might mask their inner confusion. 

Back to School

The end of summer and the beginning of a new school year is quickly approaching.  The start of a new school year can be a stressful time for parents, students and teachers.  Feelings of excitement, anticipation, as well as nervousness, fear and anxiety are all common feelings that one encounters when faced with a new beginning or change.  The American Psychology Association offers the following back to school tips.   

  • Practice the first day of school  (sleep routine; organize school material/backpacks, discuss lunch options)
  • Get to know your classmates (schedule playdates or connect with other students that will be in your class/school)
  • Talk to your child (what are your fears about going back to school; what did you like last year; what are you looking forward to?)
  • Empathize with your children:  (let your child know that you are aware of what they are going through and that you will help them).
  • Get involved in the school and ask for help.      

Katherine C. Cowan and Ted Feinberg, EdD, NCSP wrote an article entitled Back to School Transitions: Tips for Parents that help ease the transition back to school.  

Click here to read the article