The Importance of Social Emotional Learning in Middle School

Social emotional learning in Middle School is becoming a larger priority, as middle school is ripe with opportunities for children, but it is also a time of risk-taking, increased reward seeking, and heightened peer influence. Middle school is a key developmental time for adolescents – I’m sure we can all reflect back on  that time in our lives and the new and complex emotions and feelings we were having, and how social emotional learning may have helped. It’s pretty common knowledge that adolescence comprises a variety of changes in young adults. There are not only physical changes during this period, but also significant emotional and cognitive changes that characterize a unique opportunity to build, develop and practice social emotional competencies.

What’s Happening During Adolescent Development? 

Youth are learning how to handle new demands in school and social life, while also dealing with new, intense emotions (both positive and negative), and they feel as if they need to do so without adult guidance. This is also a time period where they begin to form strong beliefs, independent of their guardians, and engage in new interests, while expanding upon their social relationships. 

During development they have the chance to make more complex decisions, needing to have the skills to critically think about their choices.

These new opportunities and challenges seen during adolescents’ developmental period open up a variety of opportunities to teach crucial social emotional skills needed to navigate these times. 

Benefits of Social Emotional Learning in Middle School

After reviewing the changes that occur during the developmental period of adolescents, as well as discussing some common concerns seen, we wilI now delve into how Social Emotional Learning benefits adolescents’ minds and mental health during this period.

  • Proving adolescents with tools to manage this time of transition in their lives allows them to better face new challenges, feelings and obstacles, while feeling comfortable and confident in making the correct choices.
  • SEL helps develop critical thinking skills to help the decision making process and strengthens their ability to reflect and analyze difficult choices they are faced with.
  • Offers adolescents the chance to gain status and admiration in the eyes of people whose opinions they value. 

Steps to Implementing a Successful Social Emotional Learning Program in Middle School

There are many challenges when attempting to integrate social emotional programming into middle schools, including:

  • Students move throughout different classrooms during the day;
  • There is increased academic focus, and limited time for “non-academic” programming;
  • Program does not reflect the diverse and more mature needs of the age group.

To address these issues, social emotional learning programs for middle school students often succeed when there are student-level strategies that promote specific social attitudes and skills. These efforts help to build more inclusive environments that promote equity.

Overall, an effective social emotional learning program for middle school students should:

  1.  Makes adolescents feel respected by adults and peers, not being given resources that are immature for their age, or make them feel talked down to.  
  2. Offer them a chance to gain status and admiration in the eyes of people whose opinions they value. 
  3. Have content that aligns with youth values and be relatable to what they’re going through during this time period.
  4. Promotes the development of the 5 CASEL SEL competencies, in order to help students grow in a holistic way.

Peekapak’s Social Emotional Learning for Middle School 

Peekapak’s Middle School Program was designed to support educators in developing the social emotional skills of children in middle school. Peekapak’s middle school unit skills were informed by a review of Guerra and Bradshaw’s empirically designed adolescent social-emotional model, the CASEL framework, adolescent development research, and teacher as well as student insight. We believe this has resulted in a research-informed, relevant, and developmentally appropriate set of skills to support students’ well-being.


NCSSLE. (n.d.). How can schools successfully build the social and emotional competencies of middle school students? How can schools successfully build the social and emotional competencies of middle school students? | National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments (NCSSLE). Retrieved April 21, 2022, from

The Pennsylvania State University . (2017, October). Penn State Middle High Brief – Pennsylvania State University. Retrieved April 21, 2022, from

About Kaitlyn Hall

Kaitlyn works alongside the CEO to help cross functionally provide support and leadership. In this role, Kaitlyn works to help operationally support the organization and ensure we meet each department's goals.

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