Tween Parenting Tips for 10, 11, and 12-Year-Olds

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. 

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
Illustration by Emily Roberts, Verywell

Daily Life

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

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

Diet and Nutrition

Your child's nutrition is important to their overall health. Proper nutrition includes eating three meals and two nutritious snacks every day.

Limit high sugar and high-fat foods while encouraging your child to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products. A healthy diet is important to ensure that your tween physically grows to their full potential.

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

The updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published in 2020 by the US Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, provides the following nutrition recommendations for tweens:

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

Stock the kitchen with nutrient-dense meal and snack options. Encourage your tween to drink water and low fat or nonfat milk, while reserving 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 by keeping the conversation pleasant—which means no homework arguments at the table!

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 healthy options and allow them to choose what they would like.

Avoid using food to bribe or reward your tween, and don’t make an issue out of their eating habits if they are a picky eater. Focusing on food preferences too much can make picky eating worse.

Although calorie needs vary from person to person at every age, the Dietary Guidelines set forth an average daily calorie requirement divided by year. These guidelines can give parents and caregivers an idea of how many calories their children should be consuming each day.

Recommended calorie intake for moderately active boys:

Recommended calorie intake for moderately active girls:

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

"Moderately active" refers to an activity level equal to walking 1.5–3 miles per day at 3–4 miles per hour. Tweens who are less active should consume fewer calories, and those who are more active will have higher calorie needs.

Physical Activity

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that tweens get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Since many kids no longer have school recess at this age, 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 bone strength.

Don't forget to 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 also enjoy playing catch, going to an obstacle course, or kicking a ball around together.

Keep in mind that 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 at this age. 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, however.

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. 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. Your child still enjoys—and needs—time set aside to spend with you.

Whether you play board games, participate in physical activities, or explore new places, doing activities together is a great way to bond with your son or daughter, no matter their age.

There may be times when your tween becomes disrespectful and needs boundaries to be reinforced through discipline or removal of privileges. They might insist they know everything, or claim that they'll do their chores only 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 offering them two choices. Ask them, “Do you want to clean your room before dinner or after?” Just make sure you can live with either choice.

Regarding chores, 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, just make sure you cover safety precautions first.

A chore chart or a 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 jobs well done.

Health and Safety

Some tweens are mature enough to stay home alone for short periods of time. Not all children feel comfortable without adult supervision at this age, though. It's best to talk with your child to see how they feel about the idea 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). Age isn't the only factor to consider, however: your child's decision–making skills and ability to follow rules are important as well.

The US Department of Health and Human Services provides a factsheet with tips for deciding when your child is ready for this responsibility.

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.

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.

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:

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

Some pediatricians now offer telehealth visits as well. This type of healthcare became much more common during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic 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.

Puberty, which generally begins in girls by 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 may begin menstruating at this age. Be sure to talk with your daughter about ways they can manage the physical and emotional symptoms of their periods.

Gynecomastia may also be an issue for boys. It is not uncommon for boys to have some breast development as they are going through puberty. It usually begins as a small, tender bump under one or both nipples.

You should reassure your child that this breast lump is normal and will most likely disappear within a few months or years without treatment.

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.

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 will take its toll in every area of their life.

To make sure your child has enough slumber time, you'll have to take notice 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.

Make sure your tween has time to wind down from his or her day before turning in for the night. Bedtime activities may include reading, listening to music, or taking a hot shower to help them relax before going to sleep.

It's a good idea to have everyone place their phones in a central location before going to bed so that kids are not tempted to check social media during the night. 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 and ask your tween to turn their devices off one to two hours before bed.

Safety

According to the CDC, 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:

  • Use a booster seat as long as necessary. Older school-age kids should sit in a belt-positioning booster seat. The AAP recommends that kids not use an adult seatbelt without a booster 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, 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.
  • 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 their peers are.

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

Technology

Many tweens use 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 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 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 OK to share their current location, home address (or anyone else’s address), social security number, birthdate, or names of family members.

If you allow your child to use social media, 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.

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, their bodies are also adjusting to significant hormonal changes and they are gaining independence and responsibility.

To add to the social pressures tweens face, some kids begin showing interest in romantic relationships and dating at this age. It's important to hold ongoing conversations about healthy relationships and sexual activity. Keep in mind that you may have to be the one to start these discussions, but your child will likely open up once you begin.

Academically, there are new challenges in middle school compared to the younger grades. Even a smart 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.

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

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 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. Be patient 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.

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. Almost half of all tweens admit they have bullied another child at one time or another.

Your tween is likely to have some awareness and understanding of world events. They will probably overhear news about tragic incidents, violent acts, and natural disasters.

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

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 humanitarian 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.

Quick Tips

Most children begin to experience puberty during their tween years. For some, this can be an exciting time. For other kids, though, the significant changes of puberty can be scary and confusing.

Talking openly with your child about their changing body and inviting them to ask questions can help them feel more comfortable about this new stage in their lives, as well as giving them the reassurance that you're there to help them through it.

If you don’t know the answer to one of their questions, it’s OK to say you’ll need to get back to them after you do some research. Holding ongoing conversations about puberty and sexuality will normalize the topics for your tween.

Also, keeping lines of communication open between you and your child at this age will serve you well in the teenage years ahead.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
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.
  1. US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical activity guidelines for school-aged children and adolescents. Updated May 29, 2019.

  3. US Department of Health and Human Services. Leaving your child home alone. December 2018.

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. Routine doctor visits for school age children. Updated November 21, 2015.

  5. American Academy of Pediatrics. Teens and telehealth can be a smart combination. February 22, 2021.

  6. American Academy of Pediatrics. Physical changes during puberty. December 19, 2014.

  7. American Academy of Pediatrics. Healthy sleep habits: how many hours does your child need? November 16, 2020.

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Protect the ones you love: child injuries are preventable. Updated February 6, 2019.

  9. American Academy of Pediatrics. Car seats: information for families. Updated February 8, 2021.