Middle School Problems With Listening Skills

Middle schoolers who seem not to hear may actually be suffering from real hearing loss or auditory processing disorder.
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Parents and teachers bemoan the lack of listening skills in children, especially those of middle schoolers who should be able to demonstrate greater independence and responsibility at home and school. Some problems with hearing may be rooted in physical or developmental concerns while others may be connected to social-emotional growth and selective hearing by pre-teens who prefer not to engage with teachers or parents. Finding a solution may require adaptations or even professional support.

1 Hearing and Listening

The process of hearing is an automatic activity. Sound waves that travel through the outer ear and into the ear canal vibrate the ear drum and move tiny bones in the inner ear. Nerve cells in the fluid-filled cochlea vibrate tiny hairs that send signals to the brain via auditory nerves. Listening, however, is the process of considering many factors when interpreting sound. These factors are based on context of the sound, personal experience, pitch, loudness and rhythm as well as visual cues indicating the source of the noise. Children and teens who have the advantage of good listening skills are generally more successful in school than those who are passive listeners. Ruling out hearing loss is the first step in assisting middle schoolers who just can't seem to listen to teachers and parents and follow instructions to accomplish basic tasks.

2 Auditory Processing Disorder

A child or teen who is found to have normal hearing can seem to hear but not listen. Students with difficulty following directions and remembering details may need to be tested for Auditory Processing Disorder by a trained audiologist or hearing specialist. A number of difficulties are possibly interfering with a student's ability to discern spoken words from background noise, or can hinder the ability to distinguish distinct sounds in words. If APD is found to be the cause of a child's inability to focus on important sounds and directions, some simple interventions can be put into place such as seating the child nearer the teacher, or giving the student one direction at a time at a slowed pace to allow time for processing.

3 Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Music and teens is an inevitable duo but over time too much exposure to loud noise can lead to a condition known as Noise-Induced Hearing Loss. Personal stereos and audio systems that deliver loud music directly via ear buds can be as damaging to hearing systems as high-decibel sounds such as airplanes and motorcycles. This kind of hearing loss is becoming more common among teens and children who listen to music at high volumes. Cautioning children against prolonged exposure to loud music is important, as is advising them on the signs of early hearing damage such as a ringing, buzzing, muffled or distorted sounds. Teens need to learn early the importance of protecting their hearing.

4 Strengthening Listening Skills

Strong listening skills equip middle school students with an important tool for academic success. Good listeners don’t have to ask questions or clarify information from teachers in school. Teaching teens to be active listeners can help them make educational gains. Encouraging eye contact and following the speaker are techniques to improve listening. Making connections with prior experiences is another way teens can practice being better listeners. Asking questions of the speaker and summarizing what was said are other skills used by active listeners who find success in proactive learning techniques. Encouraging children to use visualizing skills and drawing pictures are other ways to strengthen listening skills. Students with strong abilities for listening not only succeed academically but also tend to have more successful interpersonal relationships, a desirable outcome of active listening any parent or teacher would welcome for middle school students.

Julie Alice Huson is a parent and an educator with a Master of Science in education. She has more than 25 years of teaching experience, and has written educational materials for Colonial Williamsburg. She has also worked in consultation with the California Department of Education. Huson received a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching in 2011.