Social / Emotional

Who Am I, Anyway?

Ahh, middle school. The social dynamics. The drama. The feelings. Wouldn’t you love to go back and experience it all over again? Just kidding, neither would we.

In case you’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a tween, here’s a cheat sheet for some of the social-emotional stuff you’ll probably run into.

1

Peer pressure intensifies. In some ways, middle school is probably the peak of peer pressure; by high school, many kids are more comfortable in their own skin or have found “their people” at school. But middle schools are often smaller, and many kids feel a real need to “fit in” or do what their peers are doing. They’ll care a whole lot about others’ opinions, and you’ll probably start to see them making choices that are influenced by their peers. They might also start to feel like they’re being judged (whether that’s true or not), and if you’re making a parenting choice that’s different from their perception of their friends’ parents, you’ll probably hear about it. (See for example My Child Wants a Phone. Now What?)

2

The moodiness is real. You thought they were moody when they were a preschooler, right? Happy one minute, raging the next? Back then, their brains were just developing the ability to regulate themselves. Well, now they’re full of hormones, and the moodiness is back with a vengeance. Fun times! It’s helpful to remember that the hormones are real and the changes to their bodies and brains are many. The kids are doing their best with what they’ve got (and so are you!). The American Academy of Pediatrics offers a lot of guidance on what to expect as your child’s body and brain are developing. (Here’s another resource for guiding your child through the puberty talks.)

3

Independence is golden. They want to do stuff without you. And they should! That’s part of the fun for everyone! It can also be scary for parents, and all the more so for those whose children are at higher risk of being mistreated by authority figures when they’re out and about on their own, particularly Black and brown families and families with neurodivergent children. Tweens will be seeking opportunities to have more agency and responsibility, so it’s a good time to have conversations about what’s reasonable. We’re talking about solo outings, neighborhood babysitting gigs or other jobs (so they can start learning to manage their own money, too), and going to and from school on their own if they can do so safely.

For kids with learning and thinking differences, middle school and puberty itself can bring on some new challenges. Understood.org has offers great advice for helping your child manage these changes if they’re struggling.