The tween years can be really fun as they’re starting to understand the world and converse like mini-adults. During the tween years, your child inches closer every day to being a full-fledged teenager.
In 11-year-old girls, physical changes include increased body fat, beginning of breast enlargement, pubic hair growth, widening hips, underarm hair growth, oilier skin and hair, and the first menstrual period. Physical changes in boys might start later at 12 years old with puberty changes that include larger muscles, vocal changes, oilier hair and skin, the beginning of underarm, facial and pubic hair, darkening scrotum, and testicle and penis growth. (source)
- Shows signs of puberty
- Shows improved handwriting and an improved ability to use a variety of tools
- Growth spurt and accompanying growth pains and cramps;
- the need to both sleep and eat more
- Becomes increasingly skilled in sports
Teenage emotions are no joke. Expect moodiness and a roller coaster of both distress and happiness, bumps of sadness, and repetition of the emotional cycle. During this time, kids start to find their leadership skills and begin to understand the idea of giving back to the community. Encourage these skills by letting them take part in decision-making processes in the home and supporting involvement in community or school activities.
- Develops better decision-making skills
- Begins to question authority figures
- Starts to show a rebellious streak
- Starts to assert their independence from parents and might resist physical affection from parents
- Begins to question family values and develop personal morals
- Often wants adult approval
Friendship has long been important to your child. During the tween years, this becomes vital, for better and for worse as they explore their place in the social environment. Peer pressure starts to influence your child into doing things that they probably wouldn’t do on their own. The idea of a “group identity” starts to play a big role, and tight-knit cliques can form.
- Forms strong and complex friendships
- Shows more interest in friends and less interest in family
- Explores identity through hair, clothing, hobbies, and friends
- Shows concerns about being liked and accepted
- Demonstrates interest in activities involving those of the other gender
- Understands other people’s points of view
Eleven-year-olds are also beginning to realize that there are multiple ways to look at a piece of information, situation, or issue and start to understand that there is a gray area where there was previously only black and white. The size of your child’s brain stops growing at 12-year-old, but it’s nowhere near done developing.
By 12, most children have a strong command of language and communication skills. They are able to think beyond literal interpretations, and proverbs and idioms won’t fly over their heads anymore. You will probably get your first taste of sarcasm, and they will understand tone, as well as the actual language, in a conversation.
If you still notice speech difficulties—the “r” sound is the most common to still linger from your child’s younger days—register for speech therapy to correct problems.
In play, your tween begins to move past the playdates of their younger years into more typical teenage behavior at sleepovers or group outings to the movies. They start to spend their free time on activities such as organized sports, video games, and social activities with friends. Competitive spark continues to ignite, particularly in sports, as the pre-teen starts to dedicate more time and energy to particular hobbies.
- Understands that thoughts are private
- Experiences a greater sense of responsibility
- Exhibits an increased attention span, but often rapid changing of interests
- Understands and applies logic to situations and problems
- Becomes aware of the concepts of justice and equality
- Starts to understand cause-and-effect sequences
Don’t be surprised if your 11-year-old makes some impulsive choices or poor decisions at times. While you don’t want to shrug it off and let them off the hook, understanding why you might be seeing some interesting behavior choices can help you better respond. If your child makes unhealthy decisions, create rules that focus on safety. Encourage them to think before they act and talk about the potential consequences of their behavior. Strong enforcement of rules and setting reasonable limits will help contend with some of these parental problems.
keep an eye on the amount of screen time your tween is getting and encourage them to stay active, even if they’re not into organized sports.
Stay in contact with your child’s teachers—without becoming a nuisance—and remain active in their academic life. Don’t wait until the report card comes home with a bad grade to ensure that your pre-teen is performing academically to the best ability. If there are academic issues, find the root cause rather than get upset, as it could be anything from an eye problem to a learning disability.
Physical and emotional development don’t always go hand-in-hand when a child is evolving into a teenager. Don’t be concerned if your child doesn’t seem emotionally ready for activities that others their age are doing, or vice versa.
Stay connected with your tween’s emotional state of mind to be aware of mental health issues, such as depression, that can pop up at this time.4 While some moodiness is normal, concerns about a 12-year-old’s health and mental well-being should be discussed with a pediatrician or mental health provider.
If you have concerns about a tween’s academic life, such as their inability to keep up in class, schedule an appointment with the teacher. They often have resources to help you and may be able to offer insight that you might not have considered.