The STS Blog

5 Reasons Why Middle School Matters
St. Thomas School

Middle school is infamous for being a difficult period of our lives. It's no coincidence that books and articles about middle school often include words like "survive." All too often, middle school students are given the message that they just have to "get through" this time; that things will be better when it's over. Unfortunately, this attitude neglects the fact that middle school matters, both in the moment and in your child's future.

1. Their Brain is Rapidly Developing

To truly understand the many ways middle school will affect you and your child, it's best to understand your child's brain development. Middle school, or the ages between 10 and 15, is the second biggest time of brain development in the human lifespan after the first six months of life. This is the time when young adolescents are "testing their limits...doing things for the first time. That's hard work, and they need a safe space to try out risks," says Sarah Enos Watamura, an associate professor at the University of Denver. "We need adolescents to hang out in this sensitive period and all that allows to develop versus rushing them through it." These changes in the adolescent brain are why parents, teachers, and educational institutions should focus on the structure, stimulation, and stability necessary to support a healthy transition into young adulthood.

2. Social Skills Are Put to the Test

Middle school isn't just about learning academic skills; it's about learning social skills as well. Perhaps the most recognizable change parents will see their children experience during middle school is shifting friend groups. You may notice it's hard to keep track of who your child spends time with day-to-day, inside and out of school.

With a changing brain comes a change in personality and identity. As a result, your child may not feel like they fit in with their old friends, or they may want to "try on" new personalities to see what feels right to them. These shifts may lead to strong emotions like hurt feelings, guilt, and isolation, making it all the more important that children are supported in the right way during middle school.

3. They Need to Be Empowered

On a more intellectual level, middle school students have idealistic views about the world around them. They are proud of understanding "adult" conversations and of their opinions on high-concept matters. They are starting to see big-picture concepts and have boundless energy and enthusiasm for their own potential to make the world a better place.

When a child's passions are not stimulated or supported enough at this age, it can lead to low self-esteem and bullying. However, in the right environment your child can feel empowered to become a leader in their community by harnessing their passions and giving them direction.

4. Adolescent Brains Have the Greatest Potential...and the Greatest Risk

Since the middle school brain is changing and the frontal lobe (the part of the brain where logical thought occurs) has not developed fully, children at this age are more likely to take risks. These risks can lead to wonderful new discoveries that will help your child grow, but they can also cause irreparable harm in the classic cases of drugs, alcohol, and other reckless activities.

To prevent outright destructive behavior, giving children ways to explore safely is essential during this period of their lives. The right activities, entertainment, and friends can make all the difference in your child's growth.

5. The Domino Effect

Your child's brain will never go through as intense a change again as it will during middle school. As a result, the habits they form during middle school may very well affect how they go through the rest of their lives. This is not to say that every single thing your child tries in middle school will stick to them like glue, but if they are regularly challenged, supported, and engaged, they will be more likely to seek out healthy experiences in the future.