12-Year-Old Child Development Milestones

Your child inches closer every day to being a full-fledged teenager. Fortunately, all of the changes that go along with the teen years—physical, social, emotional and cognitive—happen slowly over a period of a time, so you can prepare.

Twelve-year-olds have their moments of both acting like the child you have always known and suddenly turning into a little adult right in front of you. Be prepared for the physical, emotional, social, and cognitive development that happens at this time.

12 year old child development milestones
Illustration by Emily Roberts, Verywell

Physical Development

Age 12 is smack-dab in the middle of the years in which a girl begins puberty and right at the beginning of a typical age for a boy to start going through the process. In girls, you will notice breast development, hair growth, and, last, menstruation. In boys, puberty begins with the penis and testicles getting bigger, then hair growth in the pubic area and underarms, and then facial hair growth, muscle growth, and the deepening of his voice.

Key Milestones

  • Begins to show signs of puberty, including menstruation in girls and muscular development in boys
  • Becomes increasingly skilled in sports
  • May go through a growth spurt

Parenting Tip

This isn’t the time to turn a blind eye to your tween’s growing sexuality. However, it’s a hard road to journey down, so if you need help in starting the conversation, talk to a teacher, nurse or doctor on how to both broach the topic with your child and to be okay with it yourself.

Emotional Development

Teenage emotions are no joke, and you probably will get a taste of the wild ride over the next year. They love their parents but want nothing to do with them.

They feel victorious and then feel as though they have failed everything. There will be moments of happiness, bumps of sadness, and then it will repeat all over again

This is also the time that kids start to find their leadership skills and begin to understand the idea of giving back to the community. Encourage this by letting them take part in decision-making processes in the home and supporting involvement in community or school activities.

Key Milestones

  • Starts to show a rebellious streak
  • Cements his or her independence from parents, but often wants adult approval
  • Begins to question family values and develop personal morals

Parenting Tip

Balance independence and leadership with maintaining house rules and keeping your tween safe. Talk frequently about the things your 12-year-old would like to be able to do on their own and continually make compromises when it feels appropriate.

Social Development

Friends are becoming more important than ever, but the opposite sex is climbing in importance, too. Your 12-year-old thinks it’s important to belong, which often means finding independence from parents and other family members, but with that comes the risk of peer pressure.

Key Milestones

  • Shows concerns about being liked and accepted
  • Interested in activities involving those of the other gender
  • Can understand other people’s points of view

Parenting Tip

Keep communication channels open and available to your 12-year-old. Your child might start experiencing situations that they're not ready for or don't know how to deal with, including all that goes along with peer pressure and growing up. Even though your tween is establishing their independence, they still need to know that their parents are available for support.

Cognitive Development

A 12-year-old’s brain has stopped growing in size, but it’s nowhere near done developing. Abstract thinking, problem-solving, and logic are all becoming easier, but the prefrontal cortex, which plays a role in impulse control and organizational skills, is still immature.

Speech & Language

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.


Twelve-year-olds are starting to spend their free time on activities such as organized sports, video games, and social activities with friends. Continue to 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.

Key Milestones

  • Increasingly able to understand and apply logic to situations and problems
  • Becomes aware of the concepts of justice and equality
  • Starts to understand cause-and-effect sequences

Parenting Tip

Stay in contact with your child’s teachers—without becoming a nuisance—and 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 achieving academically to their 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.

Other Milestones

Many 12-year-olds begin exploring the morals of their peer group, so don't be surprised if your 12-year-old announces they want to adopt a new lifestyle so they can live like their friends' family or that they want to explore a new religion.

Exploring morality is a normal part of the development process. So while it's important to explain your morals and establish rules that promote morality in your household, don't worry too much when your child says they don't agree with your beliefs.

When to Be Concerned

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. Concerns about a 12-year-old’s health and mental well-being can be brought to a pediatrician or mental health provider.

If you have concerns about a tween’s academic life, such as if they can’t seem to keep up in class, schedule an appointment with the teacher. They often have resources and insight into your child that you might not have considered.

A Word From Verywell

It’s time to make sure your child has the skills they're going to need to thrive during their teenage years. If they lack social or emotional skills, their struggles may become especially problematic when they enter high school.

Proactively look for areas where your child may need some help sharpening their skills. Provide extra support by teaching, guiding, and practicing together. If your support isn’t helpful, seek professional help.

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Article Sources

  1. Early Adolescence (Ages 10 to 13). Stages of Adolescence. healthychildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics

  2. 12- to 14-year-olds: Ages and stages of youth development. MSU Extension. Michigan State University

  3. Christie D, Viner R. Adolescent development. BMJ. 2005;330(7486):301-4. doi:+10.1136/bmj.330.7486.301

  4. Young Teens (12-14 years of age). Child Development. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Additional Reading