The Hidden/Not-So-Hidden Fears of Middle School Students

Middle school age children face their own unique emotional challenges

Posted Feb 20, 2014

Tweens often feel torn by increasing academic and peer-related pressures. Short of keeping your child in a plastic bubble (nice fantasy!) you have to face the realities of your middle schooler having unique challenges. While you can't stop external pressures from impacting your child, your mindfulness and empathy of his or her struggles can be a soothing comfort to your child.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, research shows that approximately ten percent of all youth experience anxiety disorders and most go untreated. This statistic does not account for the even higher number of children and teens who struggle with everyday fears and yet do not actually have a mental health disorder. The more you are aware and continually mindful of possible fears in your tween, the more you can help him or her. Below is a list of representative fears of middle school students:

• Anxiety about their social status as perceived by peers.

• Anxiety about their social status as perceived by themselves.

• Struggling with body image insecurities (fear of not looking good enough or an aspect of their physical self detracting from their overall looks).

• Concerns that “Nobody really understands me.”

• Fear of not pleasing their parents (for obvious reasons, this one is seldom admitted, yet it is highly common.)

• Fear of not measuring up to their own expectations.

• Fear that their parents may find about negative behaviors they may have engaged in or are tempted to engage in (e.g., drugs, casual sexual activities,)

• Hypervigilant concerns about the larger world community, they may also have global fears such as a fear of war or violence.

Remember that you were young once. The more that you can put yourself in your child's shoes and stay aware of his or her middle school challenges, the more you can offer nonjudgemental listening and empathy. Always to remember to encourage your tween to know his or value. The more you value him or her, the more he or she will feel empowered to successfully manage these challenges. 

Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein is a psychologist with over twenty-two years’ experience specializing in child, adolescent, couples, and family therapy. He holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the State University of New York at Albany and completed his post doctoral internship at the University of Pennsylvania Counseling Center. He has appeared twice on the Today Show, Court TV as an expert advisor, CBS eyewitness news Philadelphia, 10! Philadelphia—NBC and public radio. Dr. Bernstein has authored four books, including the highly popular 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child (Perseus Books, 2006), 10 Days to Less Distracted Child (Perseus Books 2007), Liking the Child You Love (Perseus Books 2009) and Why Can’t You Read My Mind? (Perseus Books 2003).