As children begin the middle school years, this marks the start of adolescence for most. While much emphasis is placed on physical changes during adolescence, children are also experiencing shifts in their social lives as well. Although children of this age are much more mature than their elementary-age counterparts, they are not yet adults and therefore still have crucial social-emotional skills to develop. 

What to Expect

During the middle school years, there are several main social-emotional areas of change and development:

  • Children show more concern about body image, looks, and clothes.
  • Children focus on themselves; going back and forth between high expectations and a lack of confidence.
  • Children begin to establish their own identities and become more independent from their families.
  • Children may form strong friendships and prefer to be with their friends or on their own rather than with family members.
  • Children may look to friends, instead of parents, for advice.

During these years, you may notice a marked shift in your child’s social interactions. They typically begin to place a greater priority on relationships and time with friends as compared to family. This is not to say that family relationships are no longer important (far from true), but their friends have become a more dominant part of their social lives. This is a typical and healthy transition during the adolescent years. This progressive shift away from familial bonds prepares them for an eventual transition to maturity and the establishment of their own families.

Social Development

Tips to Foster Social-emotional Development:

  • Meet Their Friends: Take an interest in getting to know your child’s friends. As friends take a bigger role in your child’s life, it’s useful to be aware of their influence and help your child choose friends wisely. If you feel that some of your child’s friends are not a positive influence on them, consider discussing this with them openly. 
  • Work Together to Set Goals: Children in this age group crave independence, but they may also need support in areas that require planning and execution. Instead of handing over all the responsibility for tasks to them, consider working on a plan together to meet their goals. For example, if your child has a goal of making all A’s in school, you could work on a plan together for completing homework and scheduling out assignments each week. If your child has a goal of earning their own money, you could help them brainstorm ideas for odd jobs they could do around your area.
  • Added Responsibility: These early adolescent years can often be a time of growing independence for your child. With this greater freedom comes the added responsibility to understand how to manage their time, take care of themselves when not with you, and make smart decisions. Consider adding small responsibilities at home to help your child practice taking ownership of daily activities. You could support them in learning to cook some meals, doing their laundry, or caring for pets.
  • Help Them Discover Their Identity: Adolescence is often a time of identity formation for children and teens. Teens begin to understand who they are as separate from their parents. They often have an increased sense of self-awareness as well as concern about how others see them. You can support your child’s identity formation by discussing with them their strengths and unique qualities. Helping teens think through what makes them who they are and what characteristics they bring to the world can help them. Additionally, you can support your child by encouraging them to practice and develop skills or traits that represent their identity. For example, if your child is especially gifted in music, encourage their ongoing practice and development of that skill. Skill development might also include helping them find ways to use the skills they have in productive ways. For example, if your child is especially outgoing and funny, you could encourage them to perform a comedy skit at a school talent show. 

Although the stereotypical image of the early teen years is one of turmoil and strife, it doesn’t have to be that way. Early teens are experiencing a lot of social and physical changes during this time, but they still need parental support and guidance. Although it may seem like all they want to do is be with their friends, at their core, they still need (and want) time with you and your family. Balancing their need for independence while still finding time together means there might be more compromise, but it can be achieved.

Preview Blurb: “Mom/Dad, I’m going out with my friends!” is a common refrain during the early teen years. Despite spending more time with friends, your teen still needs (and really wants) family time as well. By understanding your teen’s developmental phase, you can learn to balance their needs for independence with your desire for family time. These early teen years are all about communication and compromise. Read on to learn more about this phase of your child’s development.

The information provided on this site is NOT medical advice and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, provide medical or behavioral advice, treat, prevent, or cure any disease, condition, or behavior. You should consult with a qualified healthcare professional regarding your child’s development to make a medical diagnosis, determine a treatment for a medical condition, or obtain other related advice.

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