How we view ourselves is the launching point from where we think about how to react or respond when faced with a crisis, a problem, or setback. The foundation of how we view ourselves is built upon the self-esteem that we begin to develop in early adolescence.

What is Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem can be most simply defined as a person’s sense of self-worth. It is a personality trait that is considered by most to be stable and enduring. It is the basis of a person’s identity formation. How well you like yourself determines the types of social and emotional developmental outcomes for a person. If a person does not develop an adequate amount of self-esteem, the development of his or her identity could be stunted; whereas, one who has developed an adequate amount of self-esteem has established a firm and positive starting point from which all thoughts, behaviors, and feelings will flow.

Early Adolescence

Early adolescence is a time of tremendous growth for youth ages 10-14. Youth undergo a significant growth period where changes happen very rapidly. One minute he or she is a child, then almost overnight transforms into a young man or woman. Voices are cracking and realization occurs that wearing deodorant every day is not an optional hygienic maneuver.

These youth are experiencing the beginning of puberty and are adjusting to changes that are occurring both physically and emotionally. They are figuring out how to navigate social relationships within friend groups. They are also becoming curious about romantic relationships and their sexual orientations. Their psychological development is progressing but they are still limited in their capacity to employ abstract thinking.

Early adolescents are interested in only the here and now (concrete thinking mode) but are beginning to view themselves as separate beings from their family units. They are self-centered and tend to view situations in very black and white parameters. These youth are also overly dramatic (you may have found that they are very fond of making statements using absolutes to further emphasize their points).

How Does Self Esteem Impact Students?

So how does the trait, self-esteem, impact middle school students? It actually has an enormous influence over how this pre-teen/teenager will develop into an adult. Just ask someone about their middle school experiences. It is not uncommon that an adult can vividly recall an event from their middle school years that had a significant impact on their development.

The level of self-esteem will affect their social and emotional growth. It is because self-esteem influences a person’s decision-making and outlook on self and others. A person who possesses a fair amount of self-esteem will be able to make friends and overcome problems by building up resiliency. A person who lacks self-esteem does not like him or herself, and this may spell trouble when attempting to make friends and have relationships with others.

Middle school students desire positive connections with their peers. They want to be liked and accepted. If rejection occurs by a peer or peers, it is literally the end of the world to the adolescent. So if he/she experiences problems in this area, he or she will have self-doubt, perhaps hatred towards self and others, and may even begin to act out in negative ways such as in bullying others or have displays of extreme anger and frustration or even physical aggression. He or she may also become withdrawn and act in a reclusive manner which can further damage their ability to make friends and grow relationships.

It is all because of the amount of self esteem he or she possesses. Self esteem helps the youth navigate their adolescent world by leading their confidence and mindset. If the self-esteem tank is empty, the adolescent’s confidence and outlook will be negative or self-defeating. Their identity is determined by what they think and feel about themselves and feel valued by the approval and acceptance of others. Bottom line, when it comes to middle school students, self-esteem is truly a big deal.

Most of all, an adolescent who possesses an adequate amount of self-esteem will be able to develop a growth mindset. A growth mindset drives motivation which can thereby drive academic achievement. A person possesses a growth mindset when he or she holds the belief that he or she will overcome an obstacle and bounce back.

How to Help Middle School Students Develop Self-Esteem

Middle school students are extremely impressionable. They are still walking works in progress so what you say and do can have a heavy influence on this age group. As a teacher, you are a role model for all of the students you encounter. Here are some pointers to help promote self-esteem in your students:

  • Encourage students to surround themselves with people who are encouraging and supportive.
  • When there is misbehavior or insubordination, don’t embarrass students or call them out in front of their peers.
  • Encourage individuality and the uniqueness of each person rather than following the crowd.
  • Make sure to include everyone when playing games or forming teams/group projects. Make sure that you employ tactics so that a student is not the last person chosen. In general, middle school students are very emotional about setbacks. They feel instant dejection or embarrassment when they do not feel they are being seen and/or heard.
  • Help students who are not very outspoken or tend to be shy to participate or join in a conversation. These students need the most support and encouragement. But be careful not to embarrass!
  • Help to inspire students to want to display positive behavior. Especially promote and acknowledge students who are showing encouragement and support to peers.

In addition to remembering what it was like to be an adolescent during the middle school years, your careful observations of students’ behavior can be extremely important. You can help thwart a negative outcome by intervening in pro-social and encouraging ways.