Middle school is a time for change and transformation. For 6th graders, the transition to a new building on campus (or some cases, a new school) and the introduction of new peers and teachers, means they are navigating a new world socially and looking to fit among their peers. For 7th and 8th graders, while middle school is no longer new to them, they still might struggle at times. We can think back to our middle school years and offer advice, but sometimes that advice falls on deaf ears. Do not take offense when your middle schooler decides to ignore your words of wisdom and does their own thing. Continue to offer your input; they are actually listening to you. They are trying to be independent, but in reality they still do need you.
What are they thinking?
This is a question that often comes up when talking about different behaviors of young adolescents. To be honest, they might not be thinking at all or have the ability to make the connections that we can as adults. We ask this question even though we are fully aware that the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until the age of 25. During adolescence, the frontal lobe begins this developmental process. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for executive functioning, impulse control, task initiation and completion, and organization. In our middle school, each advisor and teacher creates lessons to help students develop strategies that will help them become better learners. We often refer to these strategies as Approaches to Learning or ATL skills. Explicitly teaching ATL skills is a key component of our International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program at BCD. IB focuses on metacognition and promotes the development of each individual student. Students begin to think about their learning in different ways. As students progress through 8th grade, they become in charge of their own learning. They understand what learning strategies work best for them and transfer these skills into high school. We often hear from principals at the local high schools that they can immediately identify students from BCD. Students from BCD ask questions on day 1, they get involved in activities, clubs and sports, they email their teachers to advocate for their needs, and they are not afraid to take risks. As teachers, we know the change does not happen overnight. Continue to be patient and supportive of your student. And, never hesitate to ask for help.
Socially, middle school is an interesting time for kids. They are constantly worrying more and more about the opinions of their peers than they have in the past. They are trying to understand the nature of different friend groups, and trying their best to fit in. They may lose interest in activities or subjects they once loved, but continue to encourage them to try new things. Being involved in different extracurricular activities will help promote the socialization middle school students crave. They become self-critical and may begin to fear taking risks in front of their peers or in general. As a parent, it is important to foster the idea of taking risks and model that behavior. Create different environments in which there are risks naturally associated with certain activities, and use those risks as learning lessons. Acknowledge the risks and set goals to overcome them. Controlled risk-taking increases confidence and allows students to grow.
Most importantly, remember and acknowledge that your kids are experiencing their middle school years in the midst of a pandemic. They have not had a normal school year since 2018-2019. For our 7th and 8th graders, that was in 4th and 5th grade, respectively. For some, the anxiety of just being around other people has become a normal way of life. There may still be some trepidation in getting together with friends and socializing like we did in 2019, and that is okay. We are extremely lucky to have been in person last school year, and we have had a successful opening to our current school year. Some students may still be adjusting to a more normal school year. It is helpful to create opportunities for conversations about day-to-day experiences to help them through this time in their lives. It is also important to know when to push the pause button and give ourselves and our kids the time they need when life becomes too overwhelming. We often hear that kids are resilient. As adults during this pandemic, our resiliency may seem to have waned from time to time. If this is true for adults, how can we expect our kids to be resilient? Resiliency is something that is taught. It is more than opening a math book and memorizing the times tables. It is being aware of the needs of your child. It is talking with your child about his/her needs and how to overcome them. With time, they begin to recognize and use those strategies on their own. There is no set curriculum to teach kids how to be resilient but continue to be patient and do what is best for your child. With time, our kids will not only learn to be resilient, they will thrive.
This is a difficult time for all of us, parents included. “It takes a village to raise a kid” resonates with me more today than it has in the past. If at any point during this year you or your child needs additional support, please know that we are in this together and we are here for you.
Tricia Pezdek, Assistant Head of Middle School