middle school and high school

5 Challenges Teens Face in Grade Transitions

A friend of mine found a journal she kept in middle school and high school. As she read it, her heart went out to her teenage self—she had doubts, insecurities, and felt pressured to fit in without looking like she was trying to fit in.

My children are teenagers. Whenever they get discouraged, I tell them that what they are feeling is normal and that they need to have patience with themselves because they are becoming. I tell them that most kids their age feel the same way, even if they try to hide it.

The transition between grades can be especially tough on teenagers. Each school year brings significant shifts to their daily lives; an adult equivalent would be changing jobs every year. New co-workers, new bosses, and new expectations. Here are five of the big challenges teenagers face in those grade transitions.

1. Fitting in Socially

Changes in the social realm can be significant from grade to grade in middle school and high school. Even one grade can make a huge difference. One school year, your teen might have a great group of friends, but when he or she goes back to school in the fall, those groups shuffle and your child has to get back on solid social footing.

Most children can gain that solid footing if they have at least one friend. If your teenager struggles socially, guide him or her to get involved in activities at school where he or she can get to know other kids. Talk to your children about social media in case it’s making them feel left out.

A study published by the Gale Group found that “standing out and not fitting in are especially detrimental during the middle school years.” So even if you as a parent know that standing out can be a great thing, and you love what makes your child unique, understand that during the middle school years, your kids likely don’t feel the same way.

2. Having the “Right” Friends

The Gale Group’s research on school transitions also found that “…strong friendships with peers who value school and achievement are positive predictors of transition experiences, whereas socializing with peers whose norms are counter to those promoted by school predicts future academic and social difficulties.”

It’s especially important for your teenager to have friends who influence him or her in a positive way in the eighth grade to ninth grade transition, middle school to high school. High school brings new freedoms and new pressures, so if your teenager is in a group that exerts positive peer influence, it will help him or her stay on track. If your child is with kids who aren’t a positive influence, don’t attack his or her friends. Instead, try to find out what your child likes about those friends and how and why he or she chose them. Then, fill your child’s time with activities that put distance between him or her and those friends.

3. Physical Changes

Teenagers experience significant physical changes during the most self-conscious time of their lives. It’s not easy, especially if your body’s changes are out of sync with the kids around you. The Gale Group’s school transitions paper says that “…pubertal timing, relative to peers, is related to adolescents’ body image and satisfaction with their appearance; late-developing females and early-developing males hold the most positive perceptions.”

So be aware of what this could mean for your teens. If your son still hasn’t hit his growth spurt between middle school and high school, he’s more likely to feel bad about himself. If your daughter developed early, she might feel embarrassed.

Grade to grade transitions are also more stressful for teens if they have acne. It might not seem like a big deal to us, but to them, it can be huge.

4. Academic Stress

One of my children is pretty happy-go-lucky, but something changed when he started high school—he cared about his grades and started to get stressed out when he wasn’t doing well. The jump from middle school to high school usually brings a substantial increase in the quantity and difficulty of school work. As a parent, I tried to give my son more independence in his academics but realized I needed to stay aware of his school demands, too—it’s a delicate balance.

Also, be aware of your teen’s reading skills. It’s easy to make it through the lower grades with so-so reading abilities, but the amount of reading in middle school and high school requires good reading skills. If your child is struggling academically, consider that he or she might need help to improve reading comprehension.

5. Home Stress

As teenagers move from grade to grade, they usually want increased autonomy, and that’s developmentally right on target. But wanting to be more independent can cause stress at home as they pull away from you and turn more toward their friends. To lessen stress at home for them and you, go into listening mode as much as possible and don’t correct them outright when their opinions differ from yours. You can instead tell them, “I hear what you’re saying. I feel differently, but I can see your point.”

Finally, stay connected to your teenager in these grade to grade transitions—even if they pull away from you, they still need you.

Sound off: What has your child struggled with during grade transitions? 

Source: School Transitions

Huddle up with your teens and ask, “What was the hardest part of moving out of middle school into high school?”