The middle school years from grades 6 through 8 are a time of big transition for families as children become teens, deal with the hormonal changes of puberty, and move from an often supportive elementary school setting to the world of middle school where parents aren't as involved at school. A 2016 study of 2,200 mostly well-educated mothers found that mothers of middle school students also struggle. Mothers report more distress and less well-being when their children hit grades 6 to 8. Mothers of infants and grown children are happiest, according to the study, lead by Suniya Luthar, a psychology professor and researcher at Arizona State University at Tempe.
Researchers expected to find that mothers of infants are similarly stressed as the levels experienced by mothers of middle-schoolers, but they are not. The University of Arizona's research team believes this might be because infants are exhausting, but are also intensely rewarding to hold and cuddle. Middle-schoolers are usually not as rewarding or cuddly. Their developmental task is beginning to make them seek individuation from parents and push parents away.
Other factors probably also impact parents' levels of satisfaction. Many parents know their children's friends, classmates and a community of other parents and teachers. When the middle school transition begins, students often interact at school with minimal parent involvement, and moms may feel more disconnected as students share less about their world, their school experiences and their friends. A number of the middle school students I see in counseling long for the independence of being dropped off to see a movie or spend time with friends without a parent accompanying them. Parents can suffer a big fall from grace, as the big need that our children had for us in younger years begins to change.
Parents' confidence in their abilities to discipline, influence and communicate with their child all decline in the middle school years. It's important not to buy in to stereotypes about teens which lump them all together as negative. Friendships with other parents of middle school age children and parenting classes can really help mitigate the sense of distress and isolation, as well as normalize the developmental parenting shifts that are happening.
Parents of middle school students need to get support from each other as less emotional rewards come in from their children. It's also important to shift and continue to connect with children, but in different ways. For example, providing space for your teen or preteen to have friends over at your home and provide snacks but remain on the periphery. Continue to reach out to connect with middle- schoolers at dinnertime and in the car, and having them teach you some things when you can.
It's been said that preteens and teens are building a house of self, and that they need to be able to set some boundaries and separation from us in order to feel they are opening and closing the doors in their house.They let us in close at times and close us out at others. It's our job as parents to be there, be loving and interested and not too needy. Keep that in mind when your sweet child asks you to drop them off down the block from their middle school or high school so no one sees you. It's a bittersweet passage that is necessary so they can begin preparing to separate from us and begin those first steps towards becoming their own person.