Committee for Children Blog

Perspective Taking: How It Helps Middle Schoolers Handle Peer Conflict

Middle schoolers can handle peer conflict with perspective taking

During their teen years, people experience a strengthening of the neural connections in their brains, making them smarter, faster, and more efficient processors of information. These changes, in conjunction with abstract reasoning skills and the growth of metacognitive skills—the ability to think about your own thinking—do three important things for middle schoolers:

  • Open the door for enhanced creativity
  • Allow teens to experience deeper empathy
  • Provide an opportunity to develop stronger perspective-taking skills

Researchers often refer to this growth in cognitive skills, and the opportunities it provides, as adolescents’ “developmental assets.” Yet, despite their increased capacity for problem solving, teens often have difficulty using these skills when they face interpersonal challenges.

Practice Perspective Taking in the Second Step Middle School Program

The Second Step Middle School Program harnesses students’ developmental assets by providing opportunities for them to analyze some of the common social problems they face. These exercises require perspective taking—the ability to identify and understand how a person is feeling—a skill that’s critical for maintaining healthy relationships and avoiding and resolving conflicts. Perspective taking is also the foundation for developing social awareness and cultural competence, because it allows students to understand, empathize with, and show compassion for people from different cultures and backgrounds.1

How Middle Schoolers Can Avoid and Resolve Peer Conflict

To develop strong perspective-taking skills, students need to practice. The Middle School Program teaches sophisticated perspective-taking strategies that help students learn to avoid and resolve conflicts. Examples include:

  • Checking your assumptions about other peoples’ thoughts and feelings (Grade 8, Lesson 18: Assumptions)
  • Keeping an open mind and seeking information instead of jumping to conclusions (Grade 7, Lesson 18: Jumping to Conclusions)
  • Making amends to someone you’ve hurt (Grade 6, Lesson 24: Making Amends)

Middle School Class Activity and Books on Adolescent Development

To give students extra practice with perspective taking, try a Class Challenge from the Middle School Program—we recommend On a Positive Note, which you can find from your dashboard in Extend→Advisory Activities.

You can also explore these two books for further insight about adolescents’ developmental assets:

  • Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain by Daniel J. Siegel, MD
  • Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence by Laurence Steinberg, PhD

Research Reference

  1. Jagers, R. J., Rivas-Drake, D., & Borowski, T. (2018). Equity & social and emotional learning: A cultural analysis. Frameworks Briefs, Special Issues Series.