What's Going On In Your Middle Schooler’s Head?

Middle school can be a challenging time for children for a variety of reasons. When students reach middle school age, their brains begin to undergo changes that can cause disruptions in various aspects of academia. While these changes are many, they specifically focus on your student’s ability to utilize the rational aspects of their brain, their preference for active vs. passive learning, and their identity development. 

As a parent, it’s important to understand what these intellectual changes are and how you can best support your student during their middle school years—such as implementing a routine and encouraging open communication. Keep reading to learn more about what’s going on in your middle schooler’s head. 

Encourage your middle schooler to harness the rational aspects of their brain

Your middle schooler’s brain is specifically developing in the prefrontal cortex of the frontal lobes—the area that primarily focuses on decision-making and rational judgement. That being said, your student is likely beginning to gain a firmer grasp on how to mediate conflict, process emotions, and make ethical decisions. While these are all traits that will positively benefit their education, it’s important to note that their brain at this age is rapidly changing—meaning they might have moments of irrational behavior, as well, that they have trouble explaining. They may find it frustrating to have times when making decisions is a breeze, swiftly followed by a sense of confusion they can’t explain. 

Note that your middle schooler may now prefer active to passive learning 

In the past, your student may have taken a passive stance on their education, going through the necessary motions to complete required tasks. As your student reaches middle school, however, you may begin to notice that they are more eager to delve into projects and assignments. Encourage your student to capitalize on this desire to take an active role in their education by asking more questions regarding the material taught in class and creatively approaching each project given. 

Utilize extracurriculars to strengthen your middle schooler’s identity development 

At this age, your student will begin to discover what their interests and passions truly are. This is a pivotal time in their lives, as they will start to have opportunities to explore these interests and to see if they are something they would like to pursue further. Extracurriculars and electives play a vital role in providing your student with an opportunity to explore their passions. If your student is interested in science, for example, they may consider joining STEM-related groups at school, or speaking with their science teacher for insights on community clubs. A student interested in art might be able to take a drawing elective that will allow them to explore their talents. Whatever it may be, their brains at this age are eager to quickly expand their knowledge of the areas that grab their attention.

[RELATED: How Parents Can Help Students Set—and Achieve—Academic Goals] 

Support your middle schooler by providing routine and guidance at home 

Middle school students thrive off having a reliable routine in their daily lives. With the many pressures middle school students face, it can be essential to have a set and predictable schedule to depend on. Guide your student to complete tasks on time by creating an after school plan, including the following items:

  • Establish a before school routine, allowing ample time for breakfast. 

  • Designate specific homework time, ideally a time where you or another adult is available for any assignment-related questions.

  • Set aside time for chores and other household requirements, spreading them throughout the week if possible, in an effort to not overwhelm students after school.

  • Select a time each week to have a check-in with your student about any concerns or comments they may want to share with you regarding school.

By establishing a routine at home, your student can feel more organized to complete all tasks at hand. A set schedule can help them gain confidence and feel a sense of ownership over their education. 

[RELATED: 5 Tactics to Encourage Academic Confidence in Your Middle Schooler]  

Support your middle schooler by fostering an open line of communication 

It’s important for your student to know that you are consistently offering open and honest communication. At this age, students are encouraged to address problems and concerns with their teacher on their own—however, your student may need your help to learn how to verbalize their concerns and your support on any issues. That being said, it’s essential for your student to feel confident coming to you with any issues they may be having. Purposefully allot time to have open and honest conversations with your student about any aspects of their lives they wish to discuss. This way, when issues do arise, they will know you are there as their ally to guide them to the best solution. 

Support your middle schooler by encouraging goal-setting and critical thinking 

Middle school age is the perfect time to begin to instill critical thinking skills in your student. Your student is beginning to develop flexible thinking abilities, specifically learning the valuable ability to switch from one task to another without losing sight of either task. It’s important for your student to understand the importance of critically thinking through each obstacle they encounter, as well as to begin to develop concrete academic goals. Sit down with your student and have them establish a list of things they hope to accomplish this school year—whether this be broken down into subject or compiled for the school year as a whole. Be sure to encourage them to think seriously about how each task will benefit their education as a whole. 

[RELATED: 4 Questions to Ask Your Child About School

At the end of the day, it’s vital to let your student begin to learn who they are. They will have moments of rational thought, followed by unexplained lack of judgement. In order to best support them, it’s helpful to understand the changes in their brain and how these can positively benefit their academic experience. 


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