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

The tween years are a 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

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

Others 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 physical and mental health. Encourage your child to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products.

Focus on supporting a healthy relationship with food and their ability to listen to their bodies. Aim for meals with more whole foods over processed foods, particularly those with lots of added sugar and sodium.

It’s normal 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. Encourage your child to listen to their body.

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:

  • 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 their growing body's requirements.

Stock the kitchen with nutrient-dense meal and snack options. Encourage your tween to drink water and low-fat or non-fat 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, and leave the smartphones and devices in the other room.

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."

In general, refrain from talking about dieting. 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 too much on food preferences can make picky eating worse.

Physical Activity

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that tweens get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. 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. 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 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.

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 child, no matter their age.

Discipline and Boundaries

There may be times when your tween needs boundaries to be reinforced through discipline or removal of privileges. 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 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.

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.

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 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). 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.

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
  • A review of school performance
  • 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 during the COVID-19 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. 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.

Puberty, which may begin 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. Usually, girls 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.

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, 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.

Make sure your tween has time to wind down from their 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 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. 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 (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.
  • Your child should ride in the back seat. 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 (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.
  • 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, vaping, 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. In fact, in 2020 17% of 8th graders reported nicotine vaping in the past year. Tweens need to know how to deal with peer pressure and 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 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, birth date, 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.

Social and Academic Pressure

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, sexual activity, consent, the risks of STIs, and pregnancy prevention. 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 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.

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 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.

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.

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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12 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.
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