Most middle schools have sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, which means kids may be as young as 11 or as old as 15 during their years there. Between those ages, kids grow in different ways and at their own pace. You just have to walk into a middle school to see the huge variation in both physical and emotional maturity.
Middle-schoolers are working toward developing certain skills by the time high school rolls around. Learn about the developmental milestones at this age.
As puberty begins, kids go through big physical changes. Growth spurts are common now. And though girls tend to develop earlier than boys, there’s a big difference in physical milestones among individual kids.
Still, most middle-schoolers:
- Get a little less coordinated as height and weight change quickly
- Start showing uneven development in skills like agility, balance, strength, and flexibility (For example, they may be able to run fast, but not gracefully.)
- Need more rest since so much energy is being used for growing
- Have a difference between body and brain growth; may be more mature physically than cognitively or emotionally
- Get better at fine motor and gross motor movements, like those used in team sports
- May try to develop strength and endurance because of increased muscle mass (especially boys)
Problem-solving skills and thinking skills develop a lot at this age. Kids may also start to pay more attention to decision making and to organizing ideas, time, and things.
- Start to understand concepts like power and influence
- Question things and don’t take everything at face value
- Think about how current actions affect the future and may worry about things like climate change and war
- Memorize information more easily
- Use flexible thinking, like checking work and changing approaches as needed
- Begin developing a worldview and a basic set of values
- Want to contribute and make their own money
In middle school, language skills typically develop much more quickly than they did the past few years. You might notice that your child can better understand what people communicate — with or without words.
In middle school, kids often:
- Use metaphors, slang, text speak, and other ways of talking
- Are interested in having discussions, debates, and arguments (sometimes just for the sake of it)
- Start to “get” and pay more attention to body language, tone of voice, and other nonverbal language cues
- Go through “what if” scenarios and talk through other ways of solving problems
- Continue to build grammar knowledge and vocabulary
- Start to use writing to describe personal experiences
Social and emotional milestones
Middle school is a time of major social and emotional growth. Kids may struggle to fit in even while looking for ways to be an individual. And they may not ask for advice as often as before. It’s not uncommon for middle-schoolers to do these things:
- Bow to peer pressure to be like others
- Have experiences with bullying or cyberbullying
- Be sensitive to other people’s opinions and reactions, and think the whole world is watching them
- Develop a sense of pride in accomplishments and awareness of their challenges
- Keep secrets (often just having a secret is more important than the secret they’re keeping)
- Have a better awareness of what’s appropriate to say in conversation
- Are introspective and moody, and need more privacy
- May test out new clothing styles and try on “personalities” while figuring out where they fit in
Keep in mind that middle-schoolers develop at different rates. But when a child this age isn’t meeting a number of these milestones or is struggling, it’s a good idea for parents and teachers to talk. Parents and caregivers may also want to talk with their child’s health care provider.
Take a look forward at developmental milestones for high-schoolers.
Middle-schoolers often start to question adult authority and opinions.
Kids usually become more aware of what’s happening in the world and how that affects them.
Kids develop at different rates, especially at this age. But it’s a good idea for parents, caregivers, and teachers to talk about any concerns.
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About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.
Molly Algermissen, PhD is an associate professor of medical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center and clinical director of PROMISE.