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Middle School Issues

By Dr. Ann Mulvey

The Middle School years are very demanding for parents and educators alike. The junior high period are the years when curiosity, social awareness and emotionality of adolescences develop. For some students, especially girls, these years can be a trial for them to fit into the social milieu. Seemingly simply inclusions such as invitations to birthday parties may mean everything to many of these students.  I have seen rejection by girls to birthday parties develop into deep depression for that teenager.

For both boys and girls maturity may compete with body image and self-concept (Wolman, 1998).  For girls, it is a period of intense sensitivity and adjustment. For boys, it may be a time of teasing and limited self-concept. Boys want to excel academically and athletically to maintain self-concept.  It is really a time for "students to figure out who they are."

During these years, to get attention, bullying can be a serious problem for parents and educators. The bully often has issues that need to be addressed. In my experience, the bully feels lonely with "no one who cares." On the other-hand, the victim must be given time to discuss the situation and be part of the action plan. The most difficult times for the victim are usually the less structured periods of the school day.  This situation occurs because students are given more freedom of choice during recess, hall movement, lunch and perhaps specials. The aftermath of childhood bullying can stay with an individual for a devastatingly long time. Jose Bolton underscores that because of shame and embarrassment, bully victims feel overwhelmed and debilitated and many never forget the physical and emotional pain of being abused.  

As educators, a definite course of action must be followed to assist the bullying victim. At lunch, when a group isolates the student, it might be well for the administrator to have her/his lunch with the group including the victim. Food time may work miracles! The adult may steer the conversation and diffuse some of the anti-social behavior. The risk behavior of adolescents is often a consequence of adolescent's personal search for identity, according to Brown.

Research supports the belief that students must feel the sense of belonging and excitement in order to reach academic potential. Kevorkian points out that peer-rejection may have serious side effects such as low self-esteem and depression.  Peer-rejection may lead to dropping out of school, juvenile delinquency and/or mental health issues.  

Middle school students need parental help to choose friends with similar interest.  Praise and encouragement by parents and educators will help to develop the best assets for each child. This developmental period may be an exciting time for adults and students. It does not have to be the age of strife, "drama" and negativity". Adults need to be role models and always willing to listen to youngsters. Adults must remember they once had the same concerns, issues and possible "drama outburst". Adults survived this stage and so will our students.#

Ann Mulvey is a professor at Touro College.

Several excellent resources for parents and educators are: Wolman, B.B. (1998) Adolescences: Biological and Psychological Perspectives; Bolton, Jose (2005): No Rule for Bullies; Brown, B. B. (1990): Peer Groups and Peer Cultures; Kevorkian, Meline (2006): Preventing Bullying, Helping Form Positive Relationships. 

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