Social awareness involves having a strong sense of empathy—the ability to understand and respect the perspectives of others—and applying it to social interactions with people from diverse backgrounds. At this age, your teen is developing his sense of empathy and he is learning how to behave appropriately in a variety of social settings. During the middle-school years, your child’s friendships become increasingly important to him, and he may be more concerned about how his peers perceive him. Young people’s interest in sexuality and gender also grows at this age, and they are figuring out their role in romantic relationships. The physical and emotional changes of puberty may also affect your middle-schooler’s moods and the way he approaches social interactions and relationships. You can help him deal with these changes by listening to his concerns and finding positive ways to build his social skills.
During the middle-school years, young people are in transition from childhood to adolescence, and this can have an effect on their behavior. This phase is marked by emotional and physical growth. The onset of puberty may also make some teens unpredictable or moody and can cause them to feel out of control of their changing bodies. You can help your teen navigate through these years by taking the time to listen to his concerns and providing guidance and encouragement.
At this age, your teen should understand the need to apply empathy to their social interactions, and your child should be better able to identify the feelings and intentions of others. their ability to adjust their behavior to meet the needs of others should also improve during these years. Your teen may not always put empathy into action, however, since adolescents are often more concerned about their social standing. This may cause them to focus on how others perceive him, rather than on their feelings.
During this phase, your adolescent may crave the attention of their friends and classmates more than ever as your child tries to define their own identity away from you. Middle-schoolers are eager to be accepted, have friends, and belong to the popular crowd, which can lead to hurt feelings if they are not part of a group. Your child may also show less affection to you, and the changes brought on by puberty can cause mood swings and unpredictable feelings.
Many young people also become more interested in sexuality and gender during these years. Being there for your adolescent and making them feel secure in themselves and their abilities may be the best way to help them deal with the social challenges of middle school, even if your child seems to resist your support at times.
Keep in mind that every adolescent develops at a different rate, leading to different social and emotional behaviors. The concepts highlighted in this section are based on the five sets of competencies developed by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). If you have concerns about your adolescent’s development, please contact his teacher or school counselor or your healthcare provider.
Learn more about how to support your child with our eighth-grade social awareness tips page.
Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Maurice Elias, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab, and Jennifer Miller, Author, Confident Parents, Confident Kids.