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

The best advice for raising happy, healthy tweens

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The tween years are a monumental time of transition. No longer little kids, but not quite teenagers either, tweens experience significant physical and emotional changes in a short period of time. All of these changes can be challenging for tweens and parents alike.

But with plenty of love, support, and guidance, parents and caregivers can help their tweens navigate these years while preparing them for a bright future ahead. The tween years are an opportune time to teach your 10-, 11-, or 12-year-old the life skills they’re going to need to be successful in their teenage years and beyond.

parenting advice for tweens

Verywell / Emily Roberts

Daily Life

At this age, your child is in a stage where they are constantly changing and growing. "The transition from grade school to middle school is often a challenge. Their increasing social awareness and more difficult schoolwork put higher demands on them," says Jacob Sheff, DO, a pediatrician with Providence Health in Portland, Oregon. They may appear frustrated or stressed by this.

"One of the most important parts of parenting is instilling your family’s values," says Dr. Sheff. One of the best ways to do this is by modeling the behavior and beliefs that you want to see. "They will, more often, learn your values by observing you, and will be more likely to tune a parent out whose tone is overly pedantic."

Many tweens are quite independent, but their ability to take on various tasks and responsibilities varies quite a bit. However, by this age, they should be able to take care of their hygiene, do their chores, and complete their homework with few reminders.

Others may need a little additional support. If your child isn’t motivated to get things done on their own, it’s a good time to start teaching them how to take on these responsibilities. If your child needs extra help, say with homework, you can also seek help from their teachers or consult their healthcare provider if you have concerns, such as about a learning disability or a behavioral or mental health issue.

Diet and Nutrition

Your child's nutrition is important to their overall physical and mental health. Encourage your child to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean meats or plant-based protein sources, whole grains, and healthy fats.

Focus on supporting a healthy relationship with food and their ability to listen to their bodies, says Aliza Pressman, PhD, an assistant clinical professor of pediatrics and psychologist at Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Hospital in New York City. Aim for meals with more whole foods over processed foods, particularly those with lots of added sugar and sodium.

It’s common for tweens to experience fluctuations in their appetite. Growth spurts can lead to an increase in nutrient needs and hunger, causing children to naturally want to eat more on some days than others.

The updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published in 2020 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS), provides the following nutrition recommendations for tweens:

  • Balance food intake with physical activity.
  • Choose foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
  • Consume enough calcium and iron to meet their growing body's requirements.
  • Consume sugar and salt in moderation.
  • Eat a variety of foods.
  • Eat plenty of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and dairy foods

Stock the kitchen with nutrient-dense meal and snack options. Encourage your tween to drink water over sodas. Reserve foods that are high in saturated fat, sugar, and salt (such as chips, soft drinks, and ice cream) for special occasions.

Try to eat dinner together as a family as much as possible. Make mealtimes enjoyable for everyone, and leave the smartphones and devices in the other room, suggests Dr. Pressman.

Additionally, don’t force your tween to eat any specific foods. At the same time, remember that there is no need to create a separate meal for your child if they don’t like what you’re serving. Simply offer meals that consist of a variety of options and allow them to choose what they would like.


A vital part of encouraging a healthy relationship with food in tweens is reducing the risk for disordered eating and eating disorders. Avoid talking about food in terms of "good" versus "bad" or "clean" versus "junk." Instead, opt for language that focuses on taste and nutrient value as well as how eating certain foods makes them feel and can fuel their energy level.

Also, avoid using food to bribe or reward your tween, suggests Dr. Pressman. Plus, don't make an issue out of their eating habits if they are a picky eater. Focusing too much on food preferences can make highly selective eating worse—and increase the risk of eating disorders and negative body image.

Physical Activity

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that tweens get at 60 or more minutes of physical activity daily and engage in bone and muscle strengthening three times weekly. This physical activity should include a good amount of 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 bone strength.

Don't forget to incorporate physical activity into your family life, too—and do your best for it to be fun. Go for a family walk in the evenings, play a sport together, or go for bike rides on the weekends. Keep in mind that your child will learn healthy habits by watching you, so aim to be a good role model when it comes to physical activity, says Dr. Pressman.

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. In general, refrain from talking about dieting or commenting on your child's body, positively or negatively, says Dr. Pressman. "Instill the message that their bodies are instruments, not objects."

Around the House

Tweens enjoy spending increasing amounts of time socializing with their peers at this age and their friends' opinions and influence become more important, says Dr. Pressman. While they’re still interested in family time, they might be inclined to drop their family plans if a friend calls. This doesn't mean that you aren't special to them.

In fact, it probably means the opposite. Knowing you will always be there for them, your child feels free to spend time with their friends and come back to relax with you later. "Be their safe space," says Dr. Pressman, who advocates for encouraging your child's emerging autonomy, socially and in other spheres of everyday life. Take it as a sign that you're doing a great job as a parent!

Even if your tween seems eager to hang out with friends at every opportunity, you shouldn't give up on family fun nights, says Dr. Sheff. Your child still enjoys—and needs—time set aside to spend with you.

"Strike a balance between allowing your tween to branch out while remaining rooted in the family. Allow them some privacy, especially with friends, but still make time for family activities," explains Dr. Sheff.

Whether you play board games, participate in physical activities, or explore new places, doing activities together is a great way to bond with your child, no matter their age. Dr. Sheff also recommends getting involved with your tween's school.

"Teachers often see another side of our tweens in the classroom that’s not always present at home," says Dr. Sheff. "They can be a source of valuable information regarding your tween’s behavior and are particularly helpful when concerns about mental or physical health arise."

Discipline and Boundaries

There may be times when your tween needs boundaries to be reinforced through discipline or removal of privileges. "A middle road approach, like with the authoritative parenting style, is generally best," recommends Dr. Sheff. This means not being too permissive or too authoritarian, but rather considering your child's viewpoint and feelings while also maintaining boundaries and structure.

They might insist they know everything or claim that they'll only take care of their responsibilities such as homework and chores on their own terms. Asserting themselves is a tween's way of trying to gain a measure of independence.

When this happens, you can give your child an opportunity to develop autonomy by helping them to brainstorm solutions, such as offering them choices, says Dr. Pressman. Ask them, "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 routine household tasks at this age. Appropriate chores for 10- to 12-year-olds include emptying the dishwasher, washing windows, mopping floors, vacuuming, and cleaning the bathroom. If you’re going to allow your tween to use household chemicals or do any cooking, discuss safety precautions first.

Dr. Pressman suggests using this rule of thumb when deciding how much support your tween needs for daily tasks: "If they are capable of doing it themselves, then let them do it. If they can do it with a little help, then offer that guidance. If they have no idea what to do, then you need to teach them so they learn how to do it."

A chore chart or contract can be a helpful way of reminding your tween what you expect of them, as well as reducing the urge for you to nag or repeatedly remind them to do their chores.

You may also want to offer incentives and rewards when your tween does their chores without being asked or offers to do extra work. Possible rewards could include extra privileges (such as screen time) or an allowance for a job well done.

Health & Safety

While tweens no longer need to be under constant supervision, there are many health and safety concerns to be aware of for kids of this age. Additionally, while they are more responsible regarding their physical safety, other health issues, such as healthy sleep habits, coping with stress, and navigating socio-emotional concerns, may come up.

Staying Home Alone

Some tweens are mature enough to stay home alone for short periods of time. However, not all children feel comfortable without adult supervision at this age. It's best to talk with your child to see how they feel about the idea and to consider their level of responsibility and independence before deciding to leave them at home alone.

Only three states have laws that specify how old a child must be before legally staying home unsupervised: Illinois (age 14), Maryland (age 8), and Oregon (age 10). Of course, age isn't the only factor to consider; your child's decision–making skills and ability to follow rules are important as well.

"Every kid is different and every caregiver is going to know if their child will thrive more with more or less supervision and structure," says Dr. Pressman. So, you as the parent are in the best position to decide what rules and freedoms are best for your tween.

Visiting the Doctor

Unless your tween has health issues that require more frequent check-ups, annual wellness visits with their pediatrician are recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

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

  • A review of diet and sleep schedules
  • A review of school performance
  • An examination of your child's growth and development
  • Counseling for injury prevention, dental health, and a proper diet
  • Immunizations if needed: Tdap, Meningococcal, HPV, and possibly others
  • Measurement of their height, weight, and blood pressure
  • Vision screening

Some pediatricians now offer telehealth visits as well. This type of healthcare became much more common and can be a convenient choice for many families.

Common health issues in tweens are similar to those seen in younger children; both respiratory infections and constipation can be problems at this age. Sports-related injuries are also common at this age. Sprains, broken bones, or bruises resulting from a variety of physical activities may require medical attention.

"Due to a growing desire to fit in, and not stand out as different, tweens with a chronic health condition may develop issues with compliance," says Dr. Sheff. For example, a tween with diabetes may struggle to follow their prescribed diet or take their insulin, explains the pediatrician.

Puberty, which may begin in girls beginning as early as age 8 and in boys by age 9, can come with its own set of concerns. One of these is acne, which commonly occurs in tweens.

While it doesn't usually require a trip to the doctor, girls typically begin menstruating between ages 12 and 14, but it can happen before or after that. Be sure to talk with your daughter about ways they can manage the physical and emotional symptoms of their periods.


Your tween is old enough now to learn about basic first aid. Prepare them to handle basic cuts and injuries by teaching them to use the various items in your family's first aid kit. Additionally, your local YMCA or hospital may even offer courses to tweens and teens on first aid and CPR. Consider taking a class with your child so that you are both ready for emergency situations.

Sleep

The AAP recommends that tweens get between 9 and 12 hours of sleep each night. However, with school, homework, friends, extracurricular activities, and technology all competing for their time, many tweens fall short of that goal.

Sleep is very important at this age for physical and mental development, emotional wellness, and learning ability. If your child goes to bed too late night after night, sleep deprivation can take its toll in every area of their life.

To make sure your child has enough slumber time, take note of how much sleep your child is actually getting as well as their behavior during the day, and then adjust their schedule accordingly. If your tween has difficulty waking up in the morning or trouble staying awake during the day, they may not be getting enough sleep.

"It's a good idea to have kids place their phones, tablets, and laptops in a central location before going to bed so they're are not tempted to use them during the night," advises Dr. Pressman. Studies show that as screen time increases, particularly in the evenings, sleep problems increase as well.

To improve your tween's sleep quality, it's best to limit evening screen time, too. Ideally, have your tween turn their devices off one to two hours before bed. Make sure your tween has time to wind down from their day before turning in for the night. Effective pre-bedtime activities may include reading, listening to music, or taking a hot shower to help them relax before going to sleep.

Safety

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accidents are the leading cause of death for children under the age of 19. Automobile accidents account for most of these deaths, followed by drowning, falls, burns, poisoning, and suffocation.

Although accidents can happen despite our best intentions, implementing the following measures in your home will help prevent accidents and keep your kids safe.

If necessary, have your child use a booster seat. In fact, many older school-age kids should sit in a belt-positioning booster seat. The AAP (and NHTSA and other injury prevention organizations like SAFE KIDS) recommend that kids use a booster until the body fits properly on the vehicle seat and the seat belt fits properly on the body—which typically isn't until a child is close to 5 feet tall. At age 10, half of all kids still need a booster to ride safely.

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. There is no protection offered and it is illegal in many states to do so.

Insist on Safety Equipment

Teach your child to always wear all of the appropriate safety equipment for each sport they play. This includes helmets, mouth guards, safety pads, and shin guards. Many tweens will resist helmets and other safety gear, but make these precautions nonnegotiable. Also, 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, and do not eat undercooked meats or poultry or drink unpasteurized milk or juices. Be sure to follow safe food practices when packing your child's lunch for school. This is also a great time to show them how to keep food safe if they pack their own lunch.

Teach Them Fire Safety

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.

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.

Make Sure They Know When to Call 911

Teach your child how to dial 911. Make sure your tween knows what constitutes an emergency and how to call for help. You can even "practice" by describing different situations that may or may not require a call to 911 for your tween to really understand when to do so. You might also consider having a list of emergency numbers, such as poison control, and emergency contacts for your child to call should they be unable to reach you.

Help Your Tween Resist Risky Behaviors

It’s also important to start talking to your tween about social issues, such as alcohol, drugs, vaping, and sex, says Dr. Sheff. While you might assume your child would never engage in such adult activity, there’s a good chance some of their peers are. In fact, in 2020, 17% of eighth-graders reported nicotine vaping in the past year. "It’s never too early to prepare them for these issues," explains Dr. Sheff.

Tweens also need to know how to deal with peer pressure and recognize dangers when they encounter them. "Parents should get to know their tween’s friends to know who is influencing them," says Dr. Sheff. Moreover, parents can help their tween think through how to navigate peer pressure when it comes up. "Parents should set expectations for their tween’s behavior when adults are not around."

Technology

Many tweens use social media, have their own smartphones, and regularly use the internet. And while there are games, websites, and apps that provide educational content and social interaction, digital devices can also present many 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 that they are better off not being exposed to.

Sexting can also become an issue during the tween years. Whether your child is the recipient or initiator of revealing photos, many young people use their digital devices inappropriately, unaware of the lasting effects their behavior can have on themselves and others.

To lower the risk that your tween will encounter adult content or become the target of an online predator, establish clear rules to protect your tween’s privacy. Explain that it’s never acceptable or safe to share their current location, home address (or anyone else’s address), social security number, birth date, or names of family members with an untrusted or unfamiliar source.

If you allow your child to use social media, have them choose a nickname that is different from their real name, and limit online friends to people your child already knows. In addition, research the potential risks and benefits of any social media site before allowing your child to join.

Explain what they should do if they ever receive messages that make them feel uncomfortable or come across offensive content. Request that they come to you and tell you what happened. "You want your child to always feel comfortable talking to you, so aim to listen without overreacting or getting upset so that they will feel safe to do so when it really matters," says Dr. Pressman.

As noted above, it's a good idea to establish a common area of the home where your child can use their digital devices, and set time limits on when they can use them and for how long. Also, install parental controls to ensure your tween can only access kid-friendly content.

Your Tween’s World

Middle school can be a tough time for tweens. Not only are they are striving to fit in with their peers, but their bodies are also growing and changing quickly. They are also adjusting to significant hormonal changes and gaining greater independence and responsibility.

Social and Academic Pressure

Many tweens begin showing interest in romantic relationships and dating, says Dr. Pressman. It's important to hold ongoing conversations about healthy relationships, sexual activity, consent, the risks of STIs, acceptable behavior, and pregnancy prevention. You may have to be the one to start these discussions, but your child will likely open up and ask questions once you begin.

Academically, there are new challenges in middle school compared to the younger grades. Even a tween who excelled in elementary school may find themselves having a hard time adjusting to the different teaching styles and expectations of middle school teachers.

School can become markedly more challenging in middle school and it's not uncommon for school avoidance to occur, explains Dr. Sheff. "If a child is not wanting to go to school or seems to be complaining about physical ailments to get out of attending, a parent should reach out to their pediatrician to investigate it further."

Once again, communication is key, says Dr. Pressman. Be sure your child feels comfortable talking to you about school issues or anxieties by regularly asking how they're doing and showing interest in their assignments and projects.

Healthy Connections

Extracurricular activities can help your child find friends, gain confidence, and develop new interests. Support your tween's interests, but don't be surprised if they switch activities (and friends) often as they discover what they're good at and what they enjoy the most.

At this age, your tween is experimenting to find out more about themselves and develop their own identity, says Dr. Pressman. Be patient and nonjudgmental as your child picks through the possibilities, and encourage your tween to try new things and seek out new experiences.

Bullying can be a big issue during the tween years. If your child becomes a target of bullying, they may feel embarrassed and ashamed, not wanting to confide in you. Because of this, it's important to talk about bullying often and know what signs to look for.

Direct questions such as "Is anyone picking on you?" might be embarrassing to answer. Instead, try asking 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, explains Dr. Pressman.

Although no one likes to consider the fact that their child could be bullying others, it's important to be on the lookout for signs of this, too. Kids can be both victims and perpetrators of half of the bullying and many tweens admit they have bullied another child at one time or another.

Giving Back

If there is an opportunity to help those who are suffering in your city or other parts of the world, working together with your tween to get involved in volunteer efforts can empower them to make a difference in the world while teaching them that there are ways that all of us can help those in need.

Other Tips for Tweens

Your tween is both an emerging teen and a child at the same time. They still need a lot of guidance and will be prone to test boundaries and make mistakes. Provide the structure they need and give them lots of opportunities to try out new skills and responsibilities. When they cross a line, let them experience the consequences of their actions so that they will learn to make better choices in the future.

"Tweens begin to develop a stronger sense of right and wrong. Parents will begin to hear, 'That’s not fair,' from their child much more during this phase," says Dr. Sheff. So, it's common for them to question and sometimes argue with (or even be rude to) their parents. "It’s natural for a tween to separate somewhat from their family to find and forge their own unique identity in the world."

A Word From Verywell

In just a few short years, tweens transform from little children to young adults. And while the changes can feel overwhelming at times, guiding your child through this transition can be incredibly rewarding.

If you listen and ask questions with an open mind and heart, you and your tween can truly connect on a deeper level. Keeping those lines of communication open between you and your child at this age will serve you well in the teenage years ahead.

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Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Sarah Vanbuskirk
Sarah Vanbuskirk is a writer and editor with 20 years of experience covering parenting, health, wellness, lifestyle, and family-related topics. Her work has been published in numerous magazines, newspapers, and websites, including Activity Connection, Glamour, PDX Parent, Self, TripSavvy, Marie Claire, and TimeOut NY.

Originally written by
Jennifer O'Donnell

Jennifer O'Donnell holds a BA in English and has training in specific areas regarding tweens, covering parenting for over 8 years.

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