Moms are most stressed when their children start middle school, study shows

Posted June 2, 2016

Raising an infant is difficult, but raising a young adolescent may be even harder. According to a recent study from researchers at Arizona State University, mothers are most stressed when their children start middle school. (Deseret Photo)

Raising an infant can be challenging, but raising an early adolescent may be even harder. According to a recent study from researchers at Arizona State University, mothers are the most stressed when their children start middle school.

For the study, researchers Suniya Luthar and Lucia Cicolla studied 2,200 well-educated mothers and their children ranging from infants to adults. They examined multiple aspects of the mothers' happiness, parenting styles and perceptions of their children, according to Good Housekeeping.

Luthar and Cicolla found mothers of middle-school children between the ages of 12 and 14 were far more stressed than those with younger children.

"The turbulence that hits sixth- through eighth-graders often begins with the onset of puberty, bringing physical changes and mood swings," The Wall Street Journal reported on the study. "Also, many students transfer from close-knit elementary schools to larger middle schools."

This particular transition may be one of the more difficult and dramatic transitions in life. Carl Pickhardt for Psychology Today referred to the transitions as "the middle-school crunch" because it is a time of increased pressure in a more difficult educational system correlating with the determination to act more independently."

The study found that fitting into certain social situations becomes a priority for middle-schoolers. "The social circle was instantly too much for her to handle," said Melissa Auld, a mother whose daughter is in middle school in Thornton, Colorado, to Good Housekeeping. "All the kids are on social media so she begged for Instagram, Snapchat and it's too much for me to manage, let alone her."

Parents aren't immune to the whirlwind of changes their adolescent children are going through, as mothers become overly stressed and worried about their children. Parents can also become depressed because they lose their tightknit elementary-school parent friends and are encouraged to back off from their children in the educational environment to give their children space to grow individually, according to The Wall Street Journal.

"Studies show moms of early adolescents are likely experiencing their own developmental challenges as they begin to recognize declines in physical abilities, cognitive functioning and increased awareness of mortality," Good Housekeeping said. "It also is a period when marital satisfaction is the lowest and strife the highest."

According to CNN, how much independence you should give your children during this time can be difficult to determine. Most parents make the mistake of backing off completely with their children, especially with academic responsibility, according to Pickhardt on Psychology Today.

Most middle schools incorporate the teaching method of giving students who don't turn in their homework a failing grade. This may be difficult to understand for some children, so it is essential for parents to make sure that their children's homework is completed and turned in on time, Pickhardt noted.

"They learn failure, so that's why parents have to be there," Pickhardt said.

Family Life noted it is important to pay attention to your child during this transition. Ask questions about what he or she enjoys doing and make an effort to take him or her to do it. This may alleviate some stress for you, too.

It's also crucial for children to get the appropriate of sleep during this period, according to Family Life. Make sure your child is hitting the mark of around nine hours of sleep per night.

Megan McNulty is an intern for the Deseret News National Edition. Contact her at


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