Tween Parenting Tips (10, 11, and 12-Year-Olds)

The best advice for raising happy, healthy tweens.

The tween years are a time of transition. No longer a little kid, but not quite a teenager, maturity levels vary greatly at this age. 

It’s an opportune time to teach kids the life skills they’re going to need to be successful in the teenage years and beyond.

Tips for raising a happy, healthy tween.
Your tween is old enough now to help around the house. Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

Many tweens are quite independent. They can take care of their hygiene with few reminders, they do their chores, and they complete their homework.

Others, however, need a little extra support. If your child isn’t motivated to get things done on his own, it’s a good time to start helping him become more responsible so he can take charge of his health and well-being.

Diet & Nutrition

Your child's nutrition is important to his overall health. Proper nutrition should include eating three meals a day and two nutritious snacks.

Limit high sugar and high-fat foods. And encourage your child to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean meats and low-fat dairy products.

 A healthy diet is important to help your tween physically grows to his full potential.

It’s normal for tweens to experience fluctuations in their appetite. Growth spurts can lead to an increase in appetite.

The best nutrition advice to keep your child healthy includes encouraging them to:

  • Eat a variety of foods
  • Balance the food you eat with physical activity
  • Eat plenty of grain products, vegetables and fruits
  • Choose foods low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol
  • Consume sugar and salt in moderation
  • Consume enough calcium and iron to meet their growing body's requirements

Stock the kitchen with low-calorie and low-fat meals, snacks, and desserts. Only allow your tween to drink low fat or skim milk. Keep high calorie snacks, such as chips, soft drinks or ice cream out of the house as much as possible.

Eat dinner together as a family and make mealtimes enjoyable for everyone. Don’t argue about homework or other issues at the dinner table. Instead, keep the conversation as enjoyable as possible.

Don’t force your tween to eat anything he doesn’t want. Offer healthy meals for dinner and if he’s hungry, he’ll eat it.

You don’t need to create a separate meal for your child if he doesn’t like what you’re serving.

Don’t use food to bribe or reward your tween. And don’t make a big deal out of his eating habits if he’s a picky eater. Focusing on it too much can make things worse.

The recommended calories for moderately active boys include:

  • 10 years: 1,800 calories/day
  • 11 years: 2,000 calories/day
  • 12 years: 2,200 calories/day

The recommended calories for moderately active girls include:

  • 10 years: 1,800 calories/day
  • 11 years: 1,800 calories/day
  • 12 years: 2,000 calories/day

Moderately active means a tween who participates in at least 60 minutes of physical activity, at least five a days a week. Tweens who are less active should consume fewer calories and tweens who are more active may need more.

Physical Activity

It’s recommended that tweens get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Since many of them no longer have recess, it becomes more important than ever to make sure you’re emphasizing physical activity at home.

Much of their physical activity should include aerobic activity. Playing sports, riding a bike, or jogging are aerobic activities your tween might enjoy.  

Muscle strengthening activities are also important. Some tweens may show an interest in lifting weights or performing strength training exercises.

Tweens should also participate in bone building activities. Basketball, jumping rope, or running can all help build bones.  

Incorporate physical activity into your family life. Go for a family walk in the evenings, play a sport together, or go for long bike rides on the weekends.  

Your tween might enjoy playing pass, going to an obstacle course, or kicking a ball around together.

Your child will learn healthy habits by watching you so make sure you are a good role model when it comes to physical activity.

Body image issues are common during the tween years. So it’s important to emphasize exercising to stay healthy and to build strong bones, rather than to lose weight or look better.

Around the House

Tweens enjoy spending increasing amounts of time socializing with their peers. While they’re still interested in family time, they might be eager to ditch their family plans if a friend calls.

That doesn’t mean you should give up on family fun nights, however. Your tween will likely enjoy special time with you. Whether you play board games, participate in physical activities, or you explore new places, doing activities together can be a good way to bond.

Your tween may also become disrespectful at times. She might insist she knows everything or say she’ll do her chores according to her terms. Trying to assert herself is her way of gaining some independence.

You can give her an opportunity to develop autonomy by offering her two choices. Ask, “Do you want to clean your room before dinner or after?” Just make sure you can live with either choice.

Tweens should have the skills to do most household chores. If you’re going to allow your tween to use household chemicals or do any cooking, make sure you cover safety precautions.

Appropriate chores could include emptying the dishwasher, washing windows, mopping floors, vacuuming, and cleaning the bathroom.

A chore chart could be a helpful way to remind your tween what you expect of her. It can reduce the urge to nag her or repeatedly remind her to do her chores.

Offer incentives and rewards when she’s behaving responsibly. You might link her chores to privileges, such as screen time, or you might offer an allowance.

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Your child may be ready to stay home alone for short periods of time. But make sure you know your state or local laws before you consider leaving your tween alone.

Also, some tweens may not be comfortable without adult supervision, so know whether or not your tween is truly ready for the experience before you test the waters. 

Your child is old enough now to learn about basic first aid. Prepare your tween to handle basic cuts and injuries, and teach your tween to use the various items in your family's first aid kit.

Your local YMCA or hospital may even offer courses to tweens and teens on first aid and CPR. Consider taking a class with your tween so that you are both ready for those emergency situations.

Visiting the Doctor

Unless your tween has health issues, annual wellness visits are recommended with the pediatrician.

At your tween’s annual checkup, you can expect:

  • An examination of your child's growth and development.
  • A review of diet and sleep schedules
  • Measurement of his height, weight and blood pressure.
  • Counseling for injury prevention, dental health, and a proper diet.
  • A review of school performance.
  • Immunizations: Tdap (tetanus booster), Meningococcal vaccine (Menactra or Menveo), and HPV vaccine (boys and girls), and possibly the Varivax booster (if your child hasn't had chickenpox), HepB and HepA series - if not already given.
  • Screening test: vision and hearing test.

Common health issues in tweens are similar to younger children—respiratory infections and constipation can be problems at this age.

Tweens may also see a doctor for problems related to puberty. Acne may begin in tweens who start puberty.

Gynecmastia may also be an issue. It is not uncommon for boys to have some breast development as they are going through puberty. It usually begins as a small bump under one or both nipples, that may be tender. You should reassure your child that this breast lump is normal and should disappear within a few months or years without treatment.

Sports-related injuries are also common at this age. Sprains, broken bones, or bruises may result from a variety of physical activities.

Sleep

The AAP recommends tweens get between 9 and 12 hours of sleep each night. Many tweens, however, fall short of the recommended sleep time.

Extracurricular activities, homework, family time, friends, and electronics can occupy a lot of your tween’s time. If they cut into your child's rest time, sleep deprivation will take its toll.

To make sure your child has enough slumber time, you'll have to take notice of how much sleep your child is actually getting, and then adjust your child's schedule accordingly.

Make sure your tween has time to wind down from his or her day before hitting the bed. Winding down activities can include reading, listening to music, or taking a hot shower before bed. 

If your tween has difficulty waking up in the morning or she has trouble staying awake during the day, it could be a sign that she’s not getting enough sleep.

Safety

Accidents are the leading cause of death for children. Most of these deaths could easily be prevented and it is therefore very important to keep your child's safety in mind at all times. Here are some tips to keep your tween safe:

  • Keep your tween in a booster seat if necessary. Older school-age kids should sit in a belt-positioning booster seat when they reach the weight and height harness strap limits of their forward-facing car seat. The AAP recommends kids not use an adult seatbelt until they are 4 feet 9 inches in height and are between 8 and 12 years old.
  • Your child should ride in the backseat. Children younger than 13 should ride in the back seat of the car. Do not allow your child to ride in the cargo area of a pickup truck, even if it is enclosed. In an accident, children in the back of a pickup truck have little protection from serious injury or death.
  • Insist on safety equipment. Teach your child to always wear all of the appropriate safety equipment made for each sport (helmets, mouth guards, pads, etc.).
  • Teach bicycle safety. Don’t let your child ride a bike without a helmet. Teach safety rules regarding traffic, intersections, and sidewalks.
  • Practice food safety. Wash fruits and vegetables, do not eat undercooked meats or poultry or drink unpasteurized milk or juices.
  • Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Have an escape plan in case of fire in your home, use flame retardant sleepwear, and teach your child about fire safety (never play with matches, etc.).
  • Store guns safely. If you must store a gun in the house, keep it locked up. Store it unloaded and keep the ammunition stored separately. Talk to your tween about gun safety.
  • Teach your child how to dial 911. Make sure your tween knows what constitutes an emergency and how to call for help.

It’s also important to start talking to your tween about social issues, such as alcohol, drugs, and sex. While you might assume your child would never engage in such adult activity, there’s a good chance some of his peers are.

It’s important for tweens to know how to deal with peer pressure and to recognize dangers when they encounter them.

Technology

Most tweens are comfortable using electronics. But that doesn’t mean they should be allowed to use them unsupervised.

Many tweens are using social media, have their own smartphones, and regularly use the internet. And while there are games, websites, and apps that can provide educational content, digital devices can also present a lot of risks for tweens.

From cyberbullies to online predators, the unfiltered world of the web can be dangerous for young people. Tweens who surf the web without adult supervision are likely to come across adult content.

Sexting can also become an issue during the tween years. Whether your tween asks to see inappropriate photos of someone else, or your child is the one sending nude content, many young people are using their electronic devices to share photos.

Establish clear rules that will protect your tween’s privacy. Tell your child that it’s never OK to share her current location, home address (or anyone else’s address), social security number, or names of family members.

If you allow your child to use social media, choose a nickname that is different from her real name. Research the potential risks and benefits of any social media site before allowing your child to join.

Explain what your child should do if she ever receives messages that make her feel uncomfortable or if she comes across content that is offensive. Request that she come to you and tell you what happened.

Make your tween use her digital devices in a common area of the home. Look over her shoulder sometimes so you know what she’s doing. Use parental controls to ensure she can only access kid-friendly content.

More

Middle school can be a tough time for tweens. They are striving to fit in but they don't always know how to do it.

There are a lot of academic challenges in middle school too. And even a smart tween who has excelled in the past may find themselves having a hard time. 

Extracurricular activities can help your child find friends, gain confidence and develop interests. Support your tween's interests but don't be surprised if he switches activities often.

Your tween is experimenting to find out more about himself. Be patient as your child picks through possibilities and encourage your tween to try and seek out new experiences. 

Bullying can be a big issue during the tween years. Your child might not want to tell you that she’s become a target, however. She may be embarrassed and ashamed.

It’s important to know the signs of bullying. Talk about bullying often.

Direct questions, like “Is anyone picking on you?” might be embarrassing to answer. Ask questions like, “Is bullying a problem at your school?” Your tween might be more open to talking about the subject in more general terms at first.

Be on the lookout for signs that your child may be bullying others. While most parents think their child would never do that, almost half of all tweens admit they have bullied another child at one time or another.

Your tween is likely to have some understanding of what is going on in the world. She will likely overhear news about tragic incidents, violent acts, and natural disasters.

While it may be too much for her to sit and watch the news with you, you can talk about these subjects with her. Talk about what steps are being taken to help victims and how people in your community work to keep people safe.

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Most tweens begin to experience puberty. For some, this can be an exciting time. For others, puberty can be scary and confusing.

Talk openly with your child about his changing body. Invite him to ask questions.

If you don’t know the answer to something, it’s OK to say you’ll need to get back to him after you do some research. Holding ongoing conversations about puberty and sexuality will help your tween feel more comfortable.

Some tweens are showing interest in romantic relationships and dating too. Make sure to hold plenty of conversations about healthy relationships and sexual activity. 

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