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How do I know if the academic problems my middle school students face are due to the issues, attitudes, or behaviors that commonly surface during the adolescent stage of development?

Adolescence is a time for exploration — a time when young people begin to actively examine and critique the people, places, and things that make up their world. During this period, a student's likes, dislikes, motivations, interests, and activities are likely to change as he/she starts to try new things. A student will also experience many physical, emotional, mental, and social changes during this stage of development. As a result, it may be hard for him/her to focus on school and home life. The multitude of internal and external changes experienced by a middle school student can give rise to some noticeably trying adolescent behavior. In those instances when the behavior becomes unmanageable, it may be necessary to seek the advice of a professional. Before you take that action, it would be a good idea to probe a little further into the situation.

The best way to find out what is going on with a student overall is to ask him/her, have a conference with the parents, and/or consult with a school counselor. Any number of the following developmental characteristics or behaviors can combine to produce academic problems for middle school students:

Intellectual Development

  • Egocentric; will argue to convince and exhibit independent critical thought
  • Faced with decisions that may affect long-term academic values
  • Extremely curious
  • Wrapped up in personal interests; indifferent to academics
  • Abstract thinker

Physical Development

  • Concerned about physical appearance
  • Cognizant of accelerated growth (weight and/or height)
  • Lack of physical health; poor levels of endurance
  • Poor diet

Psychological Development

  • Easily offended; sensitive to criticism
  • Erratic emotions
  • In search of adult identity
  • Compelled to exaggerate simple occurrences

Social Development

  • Capable of displaying unusual or drastic behavior
  • Confused by new school settings
  • Rebellious toward parents
  • Content to challenge authority figures; test limits
  • Fixated on peer and media role models
  • Indirectly desirous of love, affection, and approval from others

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