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8 Challenges Middle School Students Face

group of students studying and learning together

Middle schoolers are young people in transition, moving from the known environment of elementary school into an entirely new academic world. The skills and habits learned during this time can help or harm their future transitions into high school, higher education, and beyond.

Understanding the issues middle school students face allows parents and teachers to help these learners navigate the sometimes bumpy road into early adulthood. While your child’s journey will be as unique as they are, chances are they will share these common problems that most middle school students face.

1. Establishing Their Own Identity

Middle school students are often experiencing the early changes of adolescence, when they begin to explore the differences between themselves, their parents, and their siblings. One feature of this is expressing their individuality in new ways.

Young people may feel vulnerable about their changing appearance or their defined gender role in society. They may also seem to detach themselves as they gain independence. This means that parents and teachers will need to recognize that their changing behavior is a natural part of developing and expressing their own identity.

Be sure to support your middle school student as they begin to choose their own clothes and activities for school. Help them make choices, rather than making all decisions on these topics, which have suddenly become essential to their growing independence and self-esteem.

2. More Challenging Learning Material

Academic pressure is another one of the issues middle school students face as they make this transition. Moving to middle school brings with it a change to classes which are focused on one subject at a time and are taught by different teachers. The subjects themselves are more challenging, and they are taught in a different way.

There is a much greater sense of competition, and the importance of grades and academic achievements becomes apparent to the young person as they enter this new environment. Suddenly instead of all students being guided on a single path to success, there are choices, tryouts, and recognition directly based on their talents and abilities.

Keep in mind during this phase of life that there are many other problems and challenges involved in being a middle school student. Gentle guidance and avoiding extra pressure by talking about colleges and careers too soon will help your child find their footing in this more strenuous academic environment.

3. Understanding Social Pressures

Students climbing steps together

As an early adolescent, common school experiences can feel magnified. It is normal for middle schoolers to feel emotionally insecure, and allow minor slights or disappointments to overwhelm them.

Social issues in school might center around:

  • Early experiences with romance
  • Peer pressure to use drugs or alcohol
  • Finding healthy (or unhealthy) friendships
  • Socializing without adult supervision

While it might seem too early for concerns like these, they are real problems that middle school students face in today’s society. These young people are learning how to guide their own experience by making choices and witnessing consequences. Helping to keep them safe during this essential phase of life depends on keeping the lines of communication open about social pressures they are experiencing.

4. Standing Strong Against Bullying

Middle school students spend more time moving independently between classes and activities, and socializing with friends. Along with greater independence comes more possibilities for bullying and verbal abuse to happen. While parents and teachers are essential to promoting educational environments that protect students from bullying, this is the age at which children will face and learn to deal with the issue on their own.

Building the right social circle outside of the home will help children learn to stand together against bullying, by preventing, discouraging, and reporting bullying wherever they encounter it. Helping your child recognize the value of those who are different from themselves, and their own inherent right to be different is an ongoing process. Talking directly about bullying and being a good role model will help your middle school student avoid being bullied or engaging in bullying behavior themselves.

5. Meeting New Deadlines and Expectations

In elementary school, students typically have one teacher most of the day, and perhaps an elective teacher in art or PE. This means that the teacher is aware of all outstanding assignments and deadlines their students must meet. Once your child moves to middle school, they need to learn to manage multiple deadlines at once, and manage their time against competing priorities.

Recognizing that they need to complete some things before they are due in order to complete other projects in time is a difficult task for anyone. Changing to a block schedule with six to eight different teachers expecting focused attention and academic performance on their subject puts new pressures on middle school students. You can help your young person with strategies in time management, organization, and planning that will enable them to meet these rising expectations.

6. Communicating Effectively

When one teacher sees the same student all day, every day, a relationship is developed that makes communication easier for the student and their parents. That instructor also has more opportunity to notice when a student is struggling or their needs are not being met.

In the new environment of middle school, it is more important than ever that a young person learns to communicate proactively and ask for help when they need it. If they are overwhelmed, bored, or falling behind, this communication is often the difference between success and failure. Help and encourage your child to talk to their teachers and take full advantage of the dedication most instructors have to meeting the needs of all students.

7. Learning to Cope With Failure

In elementary school the expectation is that all children can reach proficiency in all the core topics. Middle school may be the first time a young person fails to succeed at something they try hard to do. These might be academic challenges, social pressures, or relationship issues.

None of us are good at everything, and there are many lessons to be learned from mistakes and failures. Every young person discovers that they might work hard on something that doesn’t come easy to them and can learn the value of persisting at it, even when the results are less than perfect. Whether it's their first broken heart or their first failing grade, these sometimes painful experiences are essential to developing into a well-rounded young adult.

8. Developing Strong Self-Esteem

High school student studying and showing thumbs up

It is inevitable that each child will face blows to their self-esteem in middle school. Expanding the academic environment to include so many more subjects, teachers, and peers broadens their experience and brings obstacles to light. Learning to value and love yourself as you face these realities builds stronger self-esteem.

Encourage young people to pursue their own interests, talents, and passions during this time. Discovering what you are good at and passionate about is life affirming and empowering for young people, and will help them avoid social pressures that lead to poor choices. By valuing what is unique and precious about yourself, you develop resistance to negative self-images.

Changing the Middle School Environmental Pressures

Not every student thrives in the same educational environment. When these problems that middle school students face cannot be overcome in their current classroom setting, there are many other innovative middle school approaches available.

At Lydian Academy, for example, middle school students have the advantages of a one-on-one relationship with their teachers and can attend virtually or in person at our campuses in Burlingame and Menlo Park, CA. Our curriculum covers all 5 primary domains, including language, social studies, math, sciences, and world languages.

This approach lessens many social pressures students face and allows them to focus on areas and topics that they feel passionate about, while leveraging one-on-one attention on skill gaps and areas of challenge. Gaining confidence and preparing for a bright academic future is the focus of your child’s educational experience at Lydian. Contact us today to attend a virtual open house or learn more about full-time middle and high school at Lydian Academy.

We offer a unique year-round one-on-one learning experience, personalized to you and your schedule.

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