According to Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, adolescence is a time in which teens are faced with identity issues and are constantly trying to figure out who they are.  During their teen years, adolescents begin to rely more heavily on their peers for acceptance.

Not only do peer groups provide teens with a sense of belonging, but peer groups also help answer questions relating to teens’ developing identities.  Due to the significant influence that friends have in each other’s lives, it is quite understandable how rifts between friends can be so catastrophic!

With constantly changing friend groups, alliances seem to shift more times in one school day than they do on one episode of the hit reality TV show Survivor.  In fact, when I work with teens I sometimes liken transitioning into middle school (or a new school) to starring in Survivor.

How are Middle School and Survivor Alike?

  • Environment: Survivor contestants and students new to middle school are placed in foreign environments and are forced to interact with strangers.
  • Grouping: Survivor contestants are grouped into tribes while middle school students are grouped into peer groups or cliques.
  • Identity: Tribes can be distinguished from each other by distinct symbols and colors.  Teens from the same clique or peer group often dress in a similar manner by sporting the same fashion trends.
  • Trust: Survivor contestants and middle school students must decide who they can trust and who can keep their secrets.
  • Betrayal: Middle school students and Survivor contestants must identify individuals who could potentially use sensitive information to backstab, or a means to advance their own agendas.
  • Competition: Both middle school students and Survivor contestants are placed in an environment in which they are competing against each other.  Cash is the primary motivator for survivor contestants whereas grades and/or advancement in social status are motivating factors for teens.
  • Alliances: Survivor contestants form alliances and teens form friend groups.  Both alliances and peer groups are constantly changing.

So how can you help your teen survive middle school?  According to ehow, Survivor contestants that work hard, begin forming alliances early, think through their next moves, and are open to changing up alliances are ultimately the contestants that are most successful.  This logic can be applied to middle school to ensure a smoother transition for your teen.

  • In terms of finding a peer group, be friendly to everyone.
  • Never say anything about someone that you wouldn’t say directly to him or her.
  • Give it time—it can definitely take some time to make good friends.
  • Join activities which are of interest to you.  Breaking down the larger school community into a group will help you come in contact with peers who share a common interest.
  • “Make new friends but keep thee old.” An old lyric states the importance of maintaining past friendships while also building new friendships.  It is important to invest time in preserving friendships from elementary school while you make new friends in middle school.