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Characteristics of Middle Schoolers: 3 Things You Need to Know

characteristics of middle schoolers

Knowing some common characteristics of middle schoolers will help you teach preteens. Whether these kids are in your children’s ministry or in a junior high youth group, they have important qualities and needs. 

One fall, I attended a three-hour orientation at my son’s school. Attendees learned what to expect when you’re expecting a middle school kid in the house. One breakout session, taught by the school counselor, was exceptionally valuable. It helped me not only as a parent but as a minister to tweens and middle school students.

[Editor’s note: Click here to learn three ways to help the parents of middle schoolers.]

When we’d settled into the changes we were about to experience, the counselor dropped this. “Your sixth graders are forgetful, power-hungry worriers.”

We all chuckled uncomfortably. Was she kidding? That sounds extreme, right? I mean, forgetful and anxious, sure. Power hungry, though? Vladimir Putin is power hungry. But our kids?

Then she unpacked how this all plays itself out and what we can help kids do about it. That’s when everything started to make sense.

3 Characteristics of Middle Schoolers

1. Middle schoolers tend to be FORGETFUL. 

First, for many middle schoolers, if something’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. Sure, an outlier may be hyper-focused and organized. But for many preteens, remembering events and details simply isn’t in their skill set quite yet. Whatever it is—homework, games, school projects, anything that’s off in the future—keeping track of and completing the tasks will be difficult for these kids without some help.

For parents, the best we can do for them is offer support. This doesn’t mean we become our child’s personal assistant, micro-managing every detail of their lives. Kids are learning how to be adults. They need to experience the tension of remembering tasks and events. But we can be understanding of this development stage and offer helpful solutions that work for them.

• First, ask what they think might help them remember XYZ. Getting them involved in the process will help them take more ownership of the plan.

• Second, if they have a mobile device, teach them how to use reminders and calendar apps.

• If Post-It notes are more your style, teach kids to put them front and center. Use the fridge, the front door, or the door to the garage. Just make sure kids will see the note before heading out for the day.

Do something to help. Otherwise, kids won’t be set up to win and might give up. These are learned skills, and middle school is the perfect time to practice them.

2. Middle schoolers often make POWER PLAYS.

Much like the terrible twos, middle school kids are testing their boundaries. Because they are so “me focused,” most of the time that boundary-testing looks like trying to control situations with peers, siblings and parents. Simply put, kids want to be in charge. And this is only natural. As kids get older and mature into adults, independence is inevitable. But independence is different from controlling their world.

As adults, we understand that just because we’re independent, it doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want. Sure, we can eat ice cream for breakfast, but deciding to skip out on a project for work isn’t such a great idea. In a sixth-grader’s mind, the ice cream and work project are the same thing and hold equal weight.

We have opportunities to help middle schoolers understand the difference. So we need to pick our battles (and time our battles) wisely. Arguing does little good if the argument escalates into a fight. Know your kids! It might be best to wait to talk through the merits of the power play your kids are trying to make. First let everyone cool down. Then have a civilized discussion when everyone is calm.

When possible, give kids power to make choices that will give them a sense of control. Where to go for dinner, what to wear to school, how to fix their hair, what to do for family night. And let them fail. If they choose not to finish schoolwork or complete a project, allow them to feel the consequences. They’ll soon understand they just have to do some things, even if you don’t want to.

Not sure where to start? Love and Logic has great resources for the tween and teen years.