Social Development Issues in Middle School
If we do not allow for socialization time, we are depriving our students of growth opportunities. Kids are going to talk, pass notes, gather in groups, and so on. If we don’t give them time for such activities, they will take the time from us. Showing that we understand socialization needs should be part of our visible attitude toward our students. Social validation is important.
Issue #1- Young adolescents have a very strong need to be part of a social group
Giving students “free time” during the school day allows for informal socialization. Students who are part of advisory groups often feel a bond of trust, or at least a sense that they know the others in the group. Clubs give students chances to get to know others with similar interests. At a minimum, we should adhere to the Turning Points tenet that calls for us to create small learning communities. This translates into teams, the basic organizational foundation of middle school.
Issue #2- There are young adolescents who feel like targets
Caissy (1994) tells us that kids often pick on others as a way of diverting attention away from themselves, their differences, or their insecurities. Regardless of the reasons, it happens. As educators, we need to do what we can to stifle this activity. Be sensitive to the kids who seem to be the outcasts and never say things like “stop picking on Sam” in front of Sam or other kids who aren’t involved. This will just make things worse for unfortunate Sam as students chide him because the teacher has come to his rescue. Instead, we need to find interests and activities that Sam does well and capitalize on them. Identify kids with similar interests/skills and arrange for Sam to get together with them. We should also encourage Sam not to react to teasing. Then it will no longer be fun for the perpetrators and it will lessen the occurrences. As strange as it may seem, some kids who become “targets” actually thrive on it in a perverse way. Attention, even though it’s negative, gives a sense of identity.
Issue #3- Young adolescence is a prime time for shyness, given the self-consciousness of the age
Milgram (1992) tells us that shyness may be manifested in blushing, nervous stomach, sweating, and increased pulse rate. Adolescents may experience these symptoms, but the need to conform to group norms may cause them to hide the symptoms and appear to be confident. Whether shyness is obvious, or a hidden malady, it can be painful and viewed as a negative trait by peers and adults. As with Issue #1, providing a variety of outlets for socialization will help ease shyness. Offering activity opportunities that vary enough to appeal to a variety of students may help shy students find their talents and interests, and other students who share them.
Issue #4- Teachers’ social backgrounds may be different from their students’
This is a very common phenomenon. We may teach students with whom we have difficulty relating. Mee (1997) tells us “it is essential that educators look seriously at the differences between the social realities of the teachers and those of the students and be willing to make needed adjustments in perceptions and in the way they conduct schooling” (p. 5). She continues by stating that student learning will be more meaningful if teachers understand young adolescent realities. Knowing student social realities will assist us in relating to them and connecting them more fully to school experiences.
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