"When no boys are in the classroom girls take part more. They answer more questions, and they argue more. I guess you would say they debate more, but I remember the same situation happening when boys were in the class and a couple of them yelled out "Cat Fight!" The girls got angry, and they stopped debating."
Boarding School Guides:
Social Issues with Middle School Girls
By Staff Writer
Middle school is a crucial time for a girl's social development. It is also a time when a child’s lack of social development becomes more apparent. Elementary school children are more likely to tolerate a socially awkward child or overlook social delays in a peer (like continued interest in more childish activities). But in middle school, girls want to demonstrate how mature they are becoming, often through interactions with their peers.
Peer relationships are the place where many budding developmental issues get played out. Self-esteem issues may materialize as mean or rude comments about a child’s social awkwardness that was formerly tolerated by the peer group. Issues of power and control may get acted out by excluding children who were formerly included in social gatherings because those children are not moving forward developmentally as quickly as their peers. However these issues materialize, social and developmental challenges become more pronounced – and more problematic – in the middle school years.
It is difficult to identify what “normal” middle school social behavior looks like because of the various levels of maturity among middle school students. Just because a student is less mature does not mean her behavior is abnormal or worrisome, provided she can find other children to befriend who are of the same maturity level.
However, there are warning signs that social development may be a bigger problem than mere slow maturation. Here are some indications that a child’s social challenges require more attention from parents:
• She lacks consistency in her friendships (for example, she can make friends but loses them within a few weeks or a month).
• She has no friends.
• She loses herself in her friendships and is unable to set limits with friends or identify her own likes and dislikes.
• She is unable to make play dates and parents are still coordinating these dates for her.
• She cannot make eye contact with others.
• Her hygiene is considerably worse than other middle school students.
• She stops wanting to participate in extracurricular activities.
• She breaks down when she comes home from school.
• She is overly concerned with boys, or displays overly sexual behavior, sexual text messaging, or sexual acting out.
Why Is My Child Struggling Socially?
There are a number of reasons that social development may be a challenge for a child. For example, the child may not be a “social thinker” (i.e., she may have difficulty reading, understanding, and responding to social cues and therefore does not think about social situations in the same way a more socially savvy child would).
Another explanation could be a learning disability or developmental disorder. A child may have nonverbal learning disorder (NVLD) which causes, among other symptoms, difficulty reading social cues. Some girls may also have Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a high-functioning form of autism that commonly results in an inability to read social cues. Both of these disorders will cause a child to feel lost in social situations, thereby increasing the child’s social anxiety.
A middle school-aged child could have heightened social anxiety for other reasons such as being picked on by other children and believing that she is not likeable, having shame around challenging family situations that her peers are not faced with, her appearance, a history of physical or sexual abuse, or an anxiety disorder, to name a few.
How Parents Can Help Nurture Social Skills
Parents who are concerned about their child’s social development are advised to consult a pediatrician or mental health provider to rule out any of the above issues prior to attempting to help the child learn social skills. While no parent wants to find out that their daughter has a diagnosable problem, it is unfair to the child to expect her to respond to social interventions when she cannot due to factors beyond her control.
Since preteens and adolescents tend to look to peers and neutral adults rather than parents for social guidance, parents should consider outside intervention to help a child with social challenges. With or without a diagnosis to account for the child’s social challenges, there are a number of interventions parents can try to help the child improve her social skills, including:
• A Social Skills Group: Local schools, mental health centers, or youth clubs may host social skills groups that are run by qualified professionals who can help a child overcome anxiety about interacting with peers in a safe setting.
• A Social Coach: There are counselors who specialize in providing social coaching for children and young adults who are socially challenged.
• A Mentor: Often an adult outside the family with whom the child has developed a relationship can provide social skills guidance. A youth pastor, sports coach, or other adult may be willing to help, but parents should inform this adult what the child’s challenges are and how the mentor can help the child improve.
• A Well-Monitored Youth Group: Organized activities and youth groups are a great place to make new friends and develop skills that transfer to the school setting. As stated above, parents should inform the youth group leaders about the child’s challenges so that the leaders can intervene and help the child learn new skills.
• A Private Boarding School: Some therapeutic boarding schools specialize in helping preteens develop social skills and other life skills to smooth the transition into adolescence. For example, New Leaf Academy of Oregon, an all-girls therapeutic boarding school for 10- to 14-year-olds, helps young girls learn to communicate with others, build lasting friendships, read social cues, and make better life decisions, while getting back on track academically.
Social relationships are central to the happiness, self-esteem, and sense of belonging of preteens and adolescents. Those who don’t achieve a baseline level of social competence tend to demonstrate more risky behaviors and lower academic achievement as they enter into adolescence and young adulthood. Your child wants to find her place in the world – help her develop the social skills that will serve her for the rest of her life.
What are the different types of girls boarding schools? Learn about specialized boarding schools for girls, such as boarding schools that specialize in learning disabilities, Asperger's syndrome, oppositional defiance, and substance abuse issues
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