The Electric Eleven-Year-Old

The Electric Eleven-Year-Old

Photograph by Jeff Woodward.Powerful advocates and strong believers, elevens are passionate about their ideas and opinions, allegiances and sense of justice. They’re devoted to classmates and peer groups, and the social negotiations surrounding cliques (which often peak at eleven and twelve) can be positive practice for teenage and young adult affiliation and attachment. Elevens’ social practice includes all the usual heartache and cruelty associated with forming and losing friendships—adults must respond to bullying with clear guidance and redirection.

Clearly in a physical and cognitive growth spurt, elevens often appear awkward. They’re actively engaging whole new worlds with outward boldness, yet inward tentativeness. Everything at eleven is in rehearsal.

Praise elevens for that rehearsal, remembering that their pronouncements are less sure than they sound, their assertiveness probably not intended as rudeness. Notice their voluminous rough drafts, their sketches and doodles—these things matter to elevens. Find ways to respond to them in writing. Such communication “at a distance” lets adults continue building strong relationships with eleven-year-olds.

Even elevens’ “contemptuous” behavior is a positive. With their eye-rolling, teeth-sucking, deep-sighing, tongue-clicking, shrugging, “whatever” posture, they’re practicing “distancing”—establishing physical and social safety when sensing a threat from another. And who better to first practice with than trusted teachers!

Elevens prefer learning new skills to honing old, but they’re proud of revision and final-draft excellence, despite their complaints. Teaching formal debate channels elevens’ need to be contrary and their sense of justice. Arguing an opposite opinion gives them great lessons in perspective-taking and empathy.

Elevens do well with project and service learning, especially when it’s their idea. Homework can be a hassle, but the more they’re held responsible, the more they learn from the positive logical consequences for accomplishment—and the negative consequences for not following through.

Elevens are ready to spread their wings a little. Parents often report better behavior away from home and moodiness around the family—where it’s safest to show their insecurities. Less grown up than they sometimes wish, elevens can still completely enjoy retreating to younger childhood patterns. They’re truly tweens.

In this series based on Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom Ages 4–14, Chip Wood focuses on the positive developmental attributes generally present in children at different ages.


Tags: 6th Grade, 7th Grade, Adolescent Development, Middle School, Yardsticks Series