Moving Onwards: Your 12-Year-Old

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You’ve supported your child for over a decade and he’s fast heading for his teenage years. What can you expect in the last year before teenhood and how can you help your son through it?

Physically, your son is growing quickly and may gain up to 4 inches in height this year; this might make him clumsy and, since different parts of his body grow at different rates, gangly. He’ll gain body hair and his voice will change. Girls generally get their growth spurts around a year earlier but this is the average age to start menstruating. The combined effects of rapid growth and increased demands at school leave him needing more sleep – nine or ten hours a night – so you might find yourself dragging a normally early bird out of bed.

He’s on an emotional roller coaster some days as his desire to be independent is hampered by the hormonal effects of puberty, concerns about self-image, and fragile self-confidence leading to moods and childish behavior. He’s more likely to push the boundaries – possible by ignoring you, breaking the rules, outright rebellion or indulging in risky behavior. This is when you most need patience and understanding, especially since he expresses his affection less and may prefer to be with friends rather than family.

Cognitively, he can express his feelings better when he does talk and can work his way through more complex problems. This, combined with a stronger sense of right and wrong, can lead to some challenging but rewarding conversations as you appeal to his sense of reason and consult him on family decisions.

There are a number of things you can do to support your son. Reinforcing appropriate boundaries without overreacting to bad behavior, recognizing the validity of his thoughts and feelings, and being honest about sensitive subjects such as sex and drugs will give him the stability he needs to resist any negative peer pressure. Showing an active interest in his academic efforts, liaising with his teachers if necessary, giving him the support and opportunities he needs, and praising effort as well as achievement will help him hone his academic skills and build his self-esteem and resilience to failure. Peer pressure is strong at this age and by getting to know his friends you can judge when and what interventions might be needed to help your son steer a straight path. Talking to him about risky behavior and giving him strategies to deal with potentially dangerous situations, whether that’s using the internet, being pressured into drinking or simply having an emergency plan for when he’s out with his friends, lets him know you’re there for him and gives him the confidence to stand by his principles. This is the time to reinforce ideas around positive body-image, a healthy lifestyle – including eating and sleeping patterns – and, importantly, to help him understand the physical changes his body is going through is normal.

Being not-quite-a-teenager is a confusing time for a child. Your support and guidance can keep your son on the right track emotionally, physically, socially and academically and give him the best chance for a bright future.