Social awareness is the ability of a person to see themselves as others do. Experts place social awareness under the broad umbrella of “emotional intelligence,” which generally refers to skills that help a person build and maintain relationships.
For middle school students, developing social awareness is crucial and challenging. Starting at about age 10 or 11, children’s friendships and relationships with adults and peers become more complicated. By about this age, children begin to develop deeper, more meaningful relationships.
Supporting social awareness in middle school children is critical. Fostering social awareness skills early in life encourages kids to interact with the people around them in a productive, healthy manner.
What Is Social Awareness?
Perhaps the most important feature of social awareness is perspective-taking. A socially aware child can identify social cues, demonstrate empathy, recognize the strengths of others, and put themselves in someone else’s shoes.
Social awareness skills do not come automatically or quickly. They develop gradually, and middle school students are unlikely to have mastered them. Helping children develop these skills is essential; developing appropriate social awareness skills is on par with learning to read and write in terms of importance.
Methods to Improve Social Awareness in Middle Schoolers
Children between the ages of 10 and 13 generally have poor emotional intelligence skills. Below are some empirically supported methods parents and other involved parties can use to encourage social awareness.
At its core, social awareness is about empathy. The core value surrounding a socially aware person is their ability to feel what others are feeling. Parents, teachers, and other people in a child’s life can help them develop empathy by demonstrating it daily.
Modeling empathy can look very different depending on the situation. A child should receive many opportunities to practice compassion in different circumstances. It might be easy for a child to demonstrate empathy when a friend is hurt, but it could be more difficult for them to relate to an unknown experience or empathize with a stranger.
Allow children the opportunity to empathize and stop harsh judgment in its tracks. Adults are much better prepared than children to manage social awareness. If an adult notices a child passing judgment or missing an opportunity to empathize, they should help that child take another perspective through kind guidance.
Middle school is a challenging time for a child’s self-image. Bullying, teasing, and uncertainty in social groups can all contribute to difficulty developing social awareness. Children should be encouraged and given opportunities to improve their self-perception.
Middle school children are old enough to understand the concept of self-talk and can be encouraged to improve how they speak about themselves. Children who disparage themselves or have low self-esteem are much less likely to be socially aware and empathetic to their peers.
Children learn social awareness best in a team setting. Sometimes, especially in the 10-13 age range, children can feel ostracized or unable to participate in a group. Empathizing with this feeling and helping a child seek opportunities to join a team or group can make all the difference when building social awareness. It’s hard to become socially aware if a child isn’t social!
Children are prone to comparison and often compare themselves to their peers when developing self-esteem. Sometimes this can be harmful, as children could value themselves negatively compared to their peers.
Encourage children to avoid comparison with peers to help them build self-esteem and social awareness. Help the child celebrate and examine the differences between themselves and their peers.
Overall, developing social awareness comes down to one thing: empathy. Anytime a child practices empathy, they take a valuable step toward becoming socially aware. This isn’t always easy in middle school. Children can be mean, and kindness can be difficult. Middle school kids aren’t always able to keep their self-esteem up either, making empathy difficult.
The best way to support a child’s development of social awareness is to model good social awareness skills. Children need to be shown by the adults in their life how to empathize, take perspectives, forgive, and understand.
As children grow, their social awareness skills improve. Adults shouldn’t expect perfection from middle school children. Instead, they can highlight the poor social awareness skills of middle-schoolers and use them as an opportunity to help these children develop the skills they need.