This series of posts explores the tricky side of middle school. Here’s post #2 – Friendship Changes. If you missed the last post, here it is: #1 – Judgment.
While researching Middle School – Safety Goggles Advised, I visited 7th-grade classrooms and asked students about school social dynamics. I wanted to understand the challenges that surface during the middle school years and explore ways to help students navigate.
One of the most frequent comments I heard from students was, “friendship changes are common and hard.” During adolescence, the desire to fit in and be accepted is at a high point, so it makes sense that these changes are challenging. One student shared, “Friendships are all over the place. You are friends one day and not the next.”
As I dug deeper, I found that students often understood the reasons behind friendship changes. Here’s what kids said:
Why are friendship changes common in middle school?
- “I think it’s because kids really want to make new friends and keep their options open.”
- “Some kids want to be ‘cool’ and accepted into a more popular group, so they change friends.”
- “Kids change friends because they may feel left out or like they don’t fit in. So they try to find a more accepting group of friends.”
Friendship changes are common throughout life and happen for all sorts of reasons. Understanding this can make changes easier to navigate. In middle school, personalities change, interests change, groups change, and even moods change all the time. Kids may even change what they are looking for in friendship and what qualities they are drawn to in friends. And all of this change can feel unsettling when you are in the midst of it.
How can students navigate this social dynamic?
I asked students what advice they would give to help other students navigate friendship changes. Their responses were insightful:
- “It’s okay to have a variety of friends in several groups, so you always have a place where you feel accepted.”
- “Be yourself, and eventually, you will find the right group that likes you as you are. People continue to change, so try not to burn too many bridges since you’ll be with the same kids through high school.”
- “Be friendly. Put yourself out there. This way, you will have a better chance of finding people you connect with.”
What can caregivers do to help kids navigate friendship changes in middle school?
Friendship changes can be uncomfortable, especially during the preteen and teen years. How can caregivers help? First, adults can empathize and validate their kids’ emotions. This will help kids feel heard as they navigate discomfort and change. Caregivers can remind kids that friendship changes are not easy and they happen throughout life. Lastly, parents can encourage kids to stay open. Adolescence is filled with growth and change. If a friendship faded away or ended abruptly, encourage them to stay open to what the future might bring. That person might be a future teammate, a classmate or maybe even a friend again someday. The Friendship Pyramid illustrates the dynamic nature of relationships as well as the qualities of friendship.
During middle school, kids explore their identity, learn how to be a friend and navigate group dynamics. Mistakes and missteps are common and provide opportunities to learn. It can be a bumpy ride, but valuable insights and growth happen in the process.
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