Your child has just moved from elementary school to middle school. It sounded fun and exciting; there would be new classes, new teachers, a new building. Now, it’s turned out to be a disaster. The best friends who’ve been riding bikes together since preschool are suddenly not speaking and are exchanging mean looks in the hallway and insults on social media. What happened? Why did these kids suddenly get so nasty?
This is all too common a tale. The reasons behind this change are nearly universal – and nearly universally misunderstood. Alzein Pediatrics is here to help parents understand what’s happening with their child’s behavior and help kids through this difficult time.
Why is Middle School the Turning Point at Which Kids Become Mean?
During adolescence, between the ages of 10 and 14 (or so), your child goes through dramatic, rapid-fire and ricocheting hormonal and developmental changes in their intellect, emotions and physical body. Unfortunately, none of these 3 ever seem to be in balance during this time. Even more unfortunately, intellect – your child’s ability to reason, think logically, and predict and understand repercussions of their actions – seems to be sadly behind.
To add insult to injury, as your child enters chaotic adolescence, they are also walking into a whole new environment they’ll spend the majority of their time in – a new school. According to experts, the transition to a new school may actually increase the likelihood of bullying in these formative years. Your child’s social playing field is newly leveled and there is a chance to move up in the social circles.
Now, step back and think about what that really means. Imagine starting a new job and being able to make a completely new impression on your managers (teachers), the director (administration) and your coworkers (fellow students and peers). Wouldn’t you do everything you could to present yourself in the best light possible? Evaluate who the power brokers are in the office and align with them? Identify those who seems to be on track to succeed and try to build a relationship with them? Of course you would.
This is exactly what these children are doing. However, because their decision-making processes are not mature, trying to gain a higher rung on the social ladder often means shoving others down, even if it means throwing away life long friendships.
Is This Mean Behavior In Kids A Battle Of The Sexes?
Girls are almost famously known for adopting “mean girl” tendencies. So much so, we’re thinking that many of you just noted that “October 3” could very well be a national holiday.
However, research shows that boys are actually more likely to struggle during this time. Studies show males are more impulsive than females through their mid-twenties. This is likely due to the fact that the cortex and the striatum, the parts of the brain thought to play a large role in determining how rewarding a stimulus or behavior is, develop more slowly in males than in females.
Because boys tend to act without thinking, they are more likely to make a friend the punch line of a joke or play an embarrassing practical joke. Boys are also less likely to share their feelings with friends, simply pulling away instead of trying to improve the situation.
How to Help Your Child Stop Being Mean?
Whether your child is suddenly on the outside of an established social circle or they are the ones shoving a former friend down the ladder, the best thing a parent can do during this time is to stay present, with an open mind and open ears. Pay attention to whom your child is suddenly speaking to and about – and not speaking to or about. Keeping lines of honest, non-judgemental communication open will let your child know that they can tell you anything and everything about the situations that they are navigating.
Use that example of a new office to discuss what’s happening at school. Explain that shoving down will have a negative impact for years to come, as teachers and peers will not trust or feel sympathetic towards your child. Encourage your child to use constructive efforts to create a positive reputation and satisfying social standing. Discuss joining clubs, running for student council and volunteering with the resource center or library as better ways to adapt to this new environment.
While we talk to kids about puberty and physical changes, we seldom discuss their changing developing emotions and intellect. Being honest with your child about these changes will help them understand and navigate the social minefields of middle school.
Would you like help explaining all this to your child? Alzein Pediatrics can provide a trusted voice. Just make an appointment with us. We’re here to help your child grow into a healthy, well-adjusted adult.