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glen veed

Courtesy of Glen Veed

Psychologist Glen Veed will talk about middle-school transitions Thursday at the Glen Ellyn Public Library.

Psychologist says middle school can be 'torturous'

by Kelly C. Doherty
April 14, 2010

Glen Veed, is a psychologist working primarily with anxiety in children and adolescents. He received his doctorate from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln and now practices psychology in Naperville.  He is actively involved with the Mental Health Association of Greater Chicago. 

On Thursday, he will be giving a presentation called “Childhood Transitions can be Torturous!” sponsored by the Mental Health Association of Greater Chicago. It will be from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Glen Ellyn Public Library, 400 Duane St. To register, call Tiffany Thomas at (312)781-7780.

Here, he talks to Medill Reports about some of the challenges of middle school and gives advice to parents. 

Medill Reports: Why is middle school considered one of the “most stressful and anxiety provoking transitions” that children face?   

Glen Veed: Middle school, in the U.S. anyway, is the transition academically associated with the worst outcomes for kids.  The transitions into elementary and high school are not nearly as difficult.  There is a lot going on and it all comes together at once during this middle school time.  

There are changes in educational expectations.  By moving from elementary school into middle school, the class work is harder. Any time you move environments, there are a number of things to be acclimatized to, in terms of people and in terms of rules and expectations. 

Another category is the physiological changes – the one that pops to mind for most people is puberty and sexual development.  But some important neurological development is happening during this time, in terms of kids having the ability to do perspective taking and have empathy for others, as well as self control -- not acting as soon as they think.   So they have this big transition educationally, and they aren’t necessarily well equipped neurologically.    

The third factor is the social changes that take place.  Middle school is a huge explosion of changing friendships and moving into more of a social network, where before there were more pairings.  It’s not just that “I have friends,” but it’s “who’s friends with who” and how does everybody connect -- which takes up a lot of middle-schoolers’ time and energy and is also extremely stressful.  And here’s where you get things like popularity and emphasis on possessions and physical appearance.  

One thing I’d like to point out is that most kids get through middle school just fine.    

MR:What sort of psychological effects can the middle-school transition have on children?  

GV: Middle school has almost a bump to it, where kids have a decrease in a whole bunch of outcomes ranging from their GPA to their attitude toward school.  Also things like depression and anxiety increase during middle school.  Parents certainly identify that there is more fighting in the family and disagreements between kids and parents.    

It’s not that it’s creating depression in every child, but overall, kids report being more depressed, more anxious, in that middle-school transition.  

You do see more kids with actual diagnoses of anxiety or depression, but it’s impossible to say if they were just waiting for the right stressor and this was the biggest stressor.    

MR:What role does bullying play in middle school?  

GV: Bullying is certainly not a new thing; it’s been around for a long time.  What seems to pop up a little bit more often in bullying relates to some of those changes that are going on in middle school.  Bullying goes beyond just name-calling and physical aggression.

One area that people don’t always know there’s a name for is “relational aggression,” and this is bullying that’s intended to attack someone’s friendship or their feelings of inclusion with the rest of the peer group. It’s hurting their reputation or hurting their status with their friends or having others turn against them.  And as kids are getting more sophisticated in their friendships, they are also getting more sophisticated in bullying using friendships. 

 Kids that do the worst are those that are both the victims of bullying and are also bullies themselves.  

The good news is we are getting more and more programs that can be effective in preventing bullying from happening, but it does take a proactive and involved school to take those steps, and it needs to be done at a school-wide level.  Kids have to have adults they know they can trust and can go to, and who they know will follow through.  Parents need to be involved as well, and it works best when parents and the school are working together. 

MR: How can parents help middle-schoolers during this difficult transition period?  

GV: The first is being supportive and having parents take the time to put themselves in their child’s shoes and understand what they’re going through and what it would be like for them.  Obviously having a three-minute passing period is probably not the most stressful thing that will happen in mom or dad’s life, but it might be one of the stressful things for their kid.  

Parents spending positive time with their kids, giving encouragement and praise and helping their children recognize their own strengths are really important parts of being supportive.  Also, being a good listener.    

Another thing that’s important is setting clear expectations -- being clear on where the line is and holding kids to task is very important.  That structure allows them to flourish.  

Finally, one thing I encourage at both a school level and the family level is giving kids more control over their environment.  When they have opportunities to see themselves be successful it builds that self-confidence and decreases stress.  

I like to think of it like parents, throughout their kids’ development, are playing the role of scaffolding.  So they are there to help their children grow but not to push when they don’t need to and to back off when they notice their children are able to take those steps on their own.