While researching my second book, Middle School – Safety Goggles Advised, I visited 7th-grade classrooms and asked students about their middle school social experience. In comment after comment, students shared that “judgment” by peers is especially hard. Snide looks and rude remarks by some students contributed to feelings of self-consciousness. One student shared, “I feel there is a lot of judgment in our grade, so when I go to school, I often think about my appearance.”
Feeling judged or fearing judgment by peers is difficult, especially during adolescence when fitting in and being accepted are at a high point. What I found interesting is that students understood many of the reasons why people judge others.
Why is there judgment in middle school? Here are some responses students shared:
- “People put others down to feel better or lift themselves up.”
- “Jealousy and insecurity play a role in judgment.”
- “Some kids judge others to stay cool and to be part of a group.”
- “Your friends might judge YOU if you don’t judge people.”
Students articulated that middle schoolers tend to judge others because they feel jealous or insecure, fear differences, or want to fit in. Understanding the reasons behind judgment make it a little easier to navigate, but it is still tricky.
Acceptance and belonging are essential human needs. When someone feels peers are judging them, it threatens their sense of acceptance and belonging. Even the possibility of being judged by peers is enough to trigger worry and self-consciousness, especially in preteens and teens.
Judgment in middle school – student insights on how to deal
I asked students what advice they would give to help other students navigate judgment by peers. Their responses were insightful:
- “When you are being judged negatively for who your friends are or how you dress, it doesn’t feel so good. My advice is to tune it out. You don’t have to listen to them. Just be yourself and stick with positive people who bring you up instead of down.
- “Accept that everyone comes from different places and different homes, and in general, everyone has something unique about them. So just accept people for who they are.”
- “Think before you talk behind someone’s back because it could really hurt their feelings. If you’re thinking something negative about someone, don’t say it. You might not know the whole story.”
What do you wish you had known when you started middle school?
As I wrapped up my research, I spoke with 8th-grade students about to begin high school. I asked them what they wished they’d known when they started middle school. Their responses reveal their personal growth.
- “I wish I hadn’t been so stressed. When I started middle school, I was always nervous and worried. Looking back, there was no reason to stress because everything worked out.”
- “I wish I’d been more open-minded, like being more open to new people, new activities, and all the other changes that come with a new school.”
- “I wish I’d known that it was okay for friendships to change and that it’s okay to be yourself.”
Feeling judged or fearing judgment by peers is uncomfortable, but there are things caregivers can do to help kids navigate. Supportive adults can help kids process their emotions and experiences, remind them of their worthiness and the worthiness of others, help them explore their options, and connect them with additional tools and resources as needed.
The middle school years are filled with physical, intellectual, and social-emotional changes. As kids move through this transitional phase, they navigate new behaviors and social dynamics they haven’t dealt with before. It can be a bumpy ride, but they learn important skills in the process. They learn more about who they are and how they want to behave. They learn from their mistakes and the mistakes of others. And lastly, they gain skills and confidence that will support their growth and development.
About Jessica Speer
Jessica Speer is the award-winning author of BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships and Middle School – Safety Goggles Advised. Her interactive books for preteens and teens entertain readers while exploring social-emotional topics. Blending humor, a dash of science, stories, and insights, her writing unpacks the social stuff that peaks during adolescence.
She has a master’s degree in social sciences and explores topics in ways that connect with kids. Jessica is regularly featured in and contributes to media outlets on topics related to kids, teens parenting, and friendship. For more information, visit www.JessicaSpeer.com