Emotional Development in Middle School (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on May 1, 2014


Emotional development is interrelated with both physical and intellectual development. As various hormones are released at uneven rates during puberty, temporary chemical imbalances occur. Many of the stormy emotions of young adolescence can be attributed to this imbalance (Caissy, 1994). The physical changes already described in this chapter are enough to cause emotions to occasionally go haywire. Imagine going from 4 feet 11 inches to 5 feet 8 inches in the three short summer months between seventh and eighth grade. Or consider the creamy, smooth complexion that becomes embarrassingly blemished during first semester of the seventh grade. How about the unpredictable erections that occur while finding the surface area of a cylinder or discussing the merits of the Panama Canal? The list of physical changes that can provoke emotional responses could go on and on, with each of us adding our own personal traumas. Be keenly aware that each time you are in a classroom of 25 middle grades students in the process of becoming, there are potentially 25 cases of moodiness and insecurity and emotional distress in there with you. Dealing with the physical changes taking place in their bodies is a persistent emotional challenge for young adolescents.

Emotional development is also entangled with intellectual development in ways we are just now beginning to understand and document. Brain researchers tell us that emotions strongly influence our ability to pay attention and retain information (Wolfe, 2001). The implications of this for the way we approach teaching and learning are tremendous. Williams (1996) indicates that emotional and psychological concerns can impede academics unless middle school teachers know how to work with these factors and channel concerns into productive results by understanding the context of the student’s world. “The affective side of learning is the critical interplay between how we feel, act, and think. There is no separation of mind and emotions; emotions, thinking, and learning are all linked” (Jensen, 1998, p. 71).


Middle grades students worry about almost everything. Their fears have changed from those of childhood to concerns about social and appearance issues. “Do I fit in? Do my jeans look like everybody else’s? Is my hair right? Will they want me to sit with them at lunch? Did he notice my braces? Will I be in the ‘right’ group on the field trip?” It’s a list that could go on forever. Worry, fear, and anxiety are common emotions of young adolescence. From an adult perspective, the sources of these negative emotions may seem trivial, but remember that perceptions form realities. To middle grades students, their worries are legitimate and quite real. To try to convince them otherwise is futile and potentially harmful. If we denigrate their concerns, we are, in fact, denigrating them and adding to their anxieties and uncertainties. Our responses should be tempered with understanding and the absence of judgmental attitudes. When a 12-year-old girl is crying because she found uncomplimentary notes written about her by kids she considered friends, the last thing she wants to hear is “It’s no big deal, you’ll find new friends.” Instead, we should acknowledge that she is hurt. The gift of an understanding ear will allow her to express her feelings and know that someone cares. It won’t take away the hurt, but it will legitimize her emotions and give her the opportunity to work through the grief of the moment.

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