Youth Identify Project: The Adjustment to Middle School

Middle schools differ from elementary school in many ways. For example, in middle school:

  • Students are in larger buildings with more students.
  • Daily schedules are different; students have more teachers and move from class to class throughout the  day.
  • Middle school teachers expect more from their students and the students have more individual responsibility.
  • The amount of homework increases.
  • Students may have more than one test a day.
  • Students may receive less one-on-one attention from teachers.
  • Adolescents have an increased desire for autonomy and control.  They want to be able to make their own decisions.
  • Relationships with other students begin to change, and most youth shift from less time spent with parents to more time and attention on peers.
  • Youth undergo physical and social changes associated with puberty, becoming more interested in romantic relationships

We asked parents to tell us about the academic, social, and structural challenges their children faced during the transition from elementary to middle school. 

Of these three types of challenges, parents reported that academic challenges were the most difficult.  For example, they reported that children had difficulty adjusting to increased amounts of homework, more difficult classes, and needed to plan for long-term assignments. 

Structural challenges were the second most difficult.  Parents felt that children had moderate amounts of difficulty adjusting to greater levels of responsibility, going to a larger school with more students, and managing the expectations of several teachers instead of just one.  

Children had the least difficulty adjusting to the social challenges of middle school.  According to parents, making friends and getting along with peers was no more difficult for their children in middle school than in elementary school.

For more information about this project, contact Dr. Beth Kurtz-Costes at

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