Navigating Your Child's Education: Grades 6-8

3 min read

Self-Concept in the Middle School Years

Aug 1, 2019 11:00 AM

“I’m not smart.”

“I’m not good at math.”

“I wish I could play the piano like her.”

“I’ll never play soccer as well as him.”

“I hate the way my hair looks.”

“I need to lose weight so I can look like her.”

“He’s more popular than I’ll ever be because his parents are rich.”

I have heard phrases like these from my students countless times over the last 20 years of teaching middle schoolers. All of them are indicators of self-concept

Self-concept is generally defined as a collection of beliefs about oneself, often based on interactions with and responses from others. What we believe about ourselves affects our identity, how we treat ourselves, and how we interact with the world around us.

In the middle school years, students often experience changes in self-concept, usually in a negative trend. Even students that feel successful and comfortable with themselves in elementary school may begin to look at themselves more negatively in middle school. One particular study revealed that self-concept decreases during the transition from elementary to middle school and increases with higher grade levels.

I have seen so many of my students long to “fit in” and desire to be like everyone else, and subsequently struggle when that isn’t the case. This can create jealousy toward others (externally) and decrease students’ self-concept (internally). Because students really begin to wrestle with what they believe about themselves in the middle school years, this is a crucial time to speak truth to them.

The direct and indirect messages middle schoolers hear from culture, peers, and sometimes even well-meaning adults is that they are not good enough or need to be like others.

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As teachers and parents, we must be careful what we communicate to our middle schoolers about who they are. It is paramount that we communicate the truth of God’s word and design in the lives of our young adolescents.

With this in mind, I believe that there is one central, simple message (drawn from Psalm 139) for middle school students that can serve as the basic framework for developing and maintaining their self-concept:

God made you. The infinite, perfect, all-knowing Creator of the universe made you

This truth seems so basic, but its impact can be profound. While most children that grow up in Christian homes know this to be true, the implications of this truth might be difficult to grasp. Yet the deeper we understand this to be true, that we are made by God, uniquely crafted and designed to know Him and be known by Him and to fulfill a unique calling, the more we see ourselves differently.

The familiar instruction of Proverbs 22:6 speaks to this, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” While we as parents are all charged to raise our children according to the ways of God, each child is unique and has a unique path God is calling them to walk.

One way to put this into practice with our middle schoolers is through discussing with them what they believe their talents, strengths and weaknesses are. We can encourage them to continue to develop their talents and strengths, and remind them often that God has given them those blessings. It’s also important to let students share their feelings about what they think are their weaknesses (academically or otherwise). As they do this, we can gently and lovingly listen. In moments when our students seem open to discussing their weaknesses, we can encourage them to look at their weaknesses as opportunities to grow and rely more on the LORD.

As middle school students begin to grasp the truth that they are uniquely, wonderfully made by God, honing their strengths and relying on Him in their weaknesses, they can begin to trust that He knows best and has given them everything they need to fulfill His call on their lives.

Patricia Boyd
Written by Patricia Boyd

Patricia taught at Worthington Christian School for over 20 years, with years of experience teaching sixth grade Bible and Mathematics. She and her husband have three adult children. Patricia loves to encourage middle school students to truly know Jesus, not just know about Him.