The negatives of middle school are plastered across the media spectrum; in fact, the best-selling author James Patterson even has a widely popular book titled, Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life.I frequently get sympathetic looks when I tell people I am the principal of a middle school. However, if we go beyond the common stereotype, the middle school and early adolescent years are ones of immense opportunity for tweens and teens. Let’s take a moment and focus on the positive side of the early adolescent period (between the ages of 10-14) that we now have a clearer picture of thanks to recent brain research.
- This is one of two times in life when the brain is capable of extreme adaptability, along with early childhood. It is much easier for an early teen to pick up new skills and abilities than it will be any other time later in life.
- At this age, students should be encouraged to try something new. If they fall in love with it, they will have capacity to become proficient at it very quickly. Try a new sport, go out for the play, take on a challenging science fair project!
- Adolescents literally feel things more deeply than adults. If a student really likes something in these years, do everything you can to feed that passion (while maintaining a balance, of course). This is why a non-reader who finds a book they can’t stop reading in middle school will change how they feel about reading if given the right nudge.
- While most adolescents want to show they aren’t kids anymore, in reality they still respond to the support and affection of the adults in their lives. This age group is still open to silly games, goofy prizes, and time to just be a kid. For me, it’s that energy that makes this age so much fun to work with.
While sixth, seventh, and eighth grades can be a challenging time for many adolescents, it is also the time when many find their true passions and interests. As parents, push your kids to really take advantage of this “age of opportunity.” Parenting tweens and teens is a demanding, albeit immensely rewarding job.