ATTN Parents: Being a 12-Year-Old Is Hard

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They’re not babies, not teenagers and not adults. Being a 12-year-old is hard for kids. It’s hard for parents, too. Maybe understanding how they feel will make it easier.

I spent some time, way too much maybe, watching videos of 12-year-old kids who talked about how it feels to be them. It was eye-opening.

Yes, parents remember what life was like for them at 12, but they might have a tendency to forget how hard it was. I’m hoping this will help us all remember that time in our lives so that we can be better parents to our kids.

Being a 12-Year-Old Is Hard

Being a 12-Year-Old Is (Really) Hard

1. Being laughed at is like a knife to the heart. Whether it’s a girl laughing at a boy who likes her or being laughed at for their shoes, it’s painful for these 12-year-olds. They desperately want to blend in, and having your peers or parents laughing at you is an announcement to the world that they are different.

2. Learning about the opposite sex is tricky. It’s hard-wired nature, so trying to fight the interest your son or daughter has in the other young sons and daughters of the world is futile.

Yes, you can (and should) set healthy boundaries for your 12-year-old, but be sure to really listen and validate their feelings.

3. Parents are dumb. Moms and dads sometimes say the dumbest, most embarrassing things in the whole world. At least that’s how your 12-year-old sees it.

Even so, the day is coming when they’ll believe you to be the smartest, most wonderful parent ever. They may be in their 20s before they do.

4. They are like you, but they don’t want to be. For example, if you’re a vegetarian, they probably are, too. For their whole life that may have been just fine.

Now they have friends who eat hamburgers and pepperoni pizza. Try not to flip out when they come home with a Big Mac on their breath. They’re experimenting.

5. Pre-teens are likely getting bullied in some way. Even if no one is beating them up and taking their lunch money, other 12-year-olds who are trying to find their own path will say and do hurtful things to your child.

This is an important and pivotal event in their lives. (READ: This Boy Can’t Speak or Walk Because of Bullying.)

Above all, if they are being bullied at school or elsewhere, it needs to be taken very seriously. Don’t tell them the bullies are just jealous. Don’t tell them to buck up and deal with it. Talk to the school and the teacher and anyone else who can help. Most of all, be your child’s shelter in the storm.

6. Getting away with things is tougher. When they were younger they could get away with the whole “it wasn’t me” who broke the lamp or left spaghetti splatters in the microwave. They know you’re onto them now. They’ll still try to sneak one by you, but they know exactly what they’re doing.

They’ve only been on the planet 4380 days!

7. Clothes are more important than almost anything else. As a good parent, you encourage them to shy away from following the crowd. All they want right now is to blend into the crowd.

If that means wearing clothes that look exactly the same as everyone else in their school, accommodate them when and if you can. Even if you refuse to buy the expensive brands, it’s a teachable moment about making and saving money to buy what they want.

8. They’re afraid of weird things. Were you afraid of something when you were a kid? Maybe it was the Thriller video, or of being left at home alone. Your kids are, too.

Telling them not to be is a waste of your breath and doesn’t do anything to help them get over it. (I’m not sure I’ll ever stop being afraid of Furbys.)

9. A bestie is everything. Whether your kiddo has 1 best friend or 3, this is the most important relationship they have – outside of what they have with you. Foster and encourage them to have good friends.

Be there for them when their BFF inevitably does or says something that hurts their feelings. (It will definitely happen at least 100 times!)

10. They essentially have more than a full-time job. They wake up, go to school, come home, eat a snack, do homework, go to piano practice, eat supper, (hopefully) goof off a bit, take a bath, go to bed and do it all over tomorrow. That’s a lot for anyone.

11. Their bodies are changing. Pimples. Greasy hair. Changing voices. Body odor. Boobies. Periods. It’s hard!

12. They don’t know who they are, but they think they should. Ask a 12-year-old what they want to be when they grow up and they’ll probably have an answer.

Often they’ll say some version of whatever they’re into that day, or what they know you want to hear. They may need to be gently reminded that it’s okay not to have an answer at all.

Do you have a 12-year-old at home?

Any advice for other parents? Have you had challenges that surprised you or even that you felt blind-sided by?

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78 comments on “ATTN Parents: Being a 12-Year-Old Is Hard”

  1. Yolanda Diederiks

    Mine just turned 13 and this is really a tough year it feels if he really hates me..he doesnt talk much and if he talks its like if he is angry at me …its like where did my sweet little boy go…i try to bear with it because it feels like my heart is broken …but know that i read all about these things he goes through i feel like just hug him….

    1. Age 11-19 was hard for me but just laying on their bed and just listening only was the best way to just let them get it all out. They really poured their hearts out and I learned that I was just expecting them to know how to be that age.

  2. Does your area have a “TeamMates” program? Here in Nebraska, it’s been around for over 30 years and was started by Coach Tom Osborn & members of his football team reaching out to school kids in Lincoln, giving them a friend, a sounding board, a role model, to meet with one day a week. The outreach has grown across the state and is a common mentor/mentee program in most schools now. You are matched to a student with common interests, and you meet with them once a week, always in a school setting, one on one. Talk, play cards, play board games, shoot baskets….this gives kids another adult in their lives to show an interest in them, build them up, help them out, and just LISTEN to them. See if your area has such a program, and if not, why not start one?

  3. My 12 year-old son has tried out for 3 different sports teams for his middle school and has made none, but his friends are making the teams.  He feels left out and sad.  He is a great athlete, but very short and small.  I’m so sad for him and frustrated.  I encourage him to continue trying out and telling him I’m proud of him, but I don’t seem to make it better.  It’s killing me inside.  I don’t know what to say. I guess he just has to navigate disappointment on his own and figure out that it may take more work for him to make the teams.  Any advice?

    1. Martha Mahoney

      I think having the child play for maybe a city league is the way Togo . Not only will he maybe better his skills but he can also build other friendships he could potentially be excited for . Then who knows the following year the coaches at school will realize what they missed out on – good luck !

    2. I’m a girl mom of 5 I have the joy now of raising my 11 yr old grandson he wanted soccer but it wasn’t available so I put him in all other sports he hated them then I did
      Some research I found a soccer clinic for all ages and all abilities he seems to like it ! I have the time to research since not too many grants i know are raising their kids again !

    3. Hi Tim,
      I’m sorry to hear of your sons disappoint but how awesome of him for continuing to tryout. That shows that he is not giving up and you are raising a very strong young man. Look into getting him into an outside league into a sport of his choice. Tryouts are not necessary and every player is guaranteed playing time. He will build his playing skills and confidence not to mention make friends along the way.


    4. I had the same problem until I got into wrestling. I was always too short for the other sports. I excelled and often won my tournaments.

  4. I’m always saying “It’s not about the ________” to my 12 yr old. It’s the lessons along the way. We talk a lot. Every. Single. Day. It helps her to hear stories of my struggles. It helps to remind her that every single kid in her class feels similar. She feels VERY inadequate. But, there’s a great lesson to being different. Superstars are different. Famous people are different. Saints are different. it’s still so hard to watch them suffer & struggle. Thank God, my kiddo has great faith & loves hugs! She says you need a 20 second hug for it to be like medicine. 🙂

  5. I’m pretty deep into a YouTube project, dealing with this period in people’s lives.  It recounts a crazy incident where I beat up a bully…then his sister almost begged me to be her boyfriend.  It shook me up pretty good, dealing with an unexpected consequence of my “victory”.  Maybe more so than the fight.  It immediately opened my eyes, more than I perhaps was ready for…

  6. I’m 12 and who knows more about 12 year olds then a fellow 12 year old so I am going to correct you on something.
    I’m not exactly sure what to tell your kid if there being bullied but DO NOT I will repeat DO NOT go to the school about being bulling it will make there situation 1,000 times worse the school will give them a temporary punishment and the bullying will only get worse because not only are they whatever caused them to be bullied for in the first place but there also a snitch and they also pissed the bully off so if a kid goes to the school about bullying it will only make there situation worse not better. As someone one who has been bullied before just don’t give in, if they take your stuff don’t try and get it back your not giving them the reaction they want, if they say something to you snap back but with something more clever, and if they call you a nerd a smarty pants in a condescending tone just say thank you, that normally works and get rid of the bullies in a month.

  7. Hey there, I am 17 now for a few months actually and I’ll say being twelve sucked it was hard and really agrivating because one I didn’t have a best friend I had friends but no best friend they all kinda transitioned away from me to spend time in sports, but she I showed a better talent for writing and music they realized that I may not be good at sports but I know how to write a good book and play a good song on the violin. However I also didn’t exactly have a strong stable father figure. As. My birth father left when I was young. It was hard and I kinda turned out for the better y now but it took so much longer I really needed him at 12 and he wasn’t there expecially regarding sexuality that is still a slight struggle for. Me but I think I like mainly girls but I won’t say no to a guy with a lot of compassion amd. And. Kindness to the but I only. Met two of those and there my. Best friends so it. Could be what I. Loom do in a guy best friend. Again idk about that but yeh, then 12 yeh its hard I actually had no one give me the talk I kinda just figured it out and pieces two and two together from when my friends talked about what they experienced and such. But yeh parents keep an eye on your twelve year old it was hard. On me but I plan to learn all I can to be a great dad one day to be there for my own children I’ll be the parent mine never were, my mom never let me out of the house except for school and home foot all games at the highschool. Thanks for. Listening to my ramble and good luck to you 12 year olds out there life will get easier if not harder first, just follow your hearts and you’ll succeed!

  8. 12 is a hard memory for me -on top of all of the regular things I had (and still do decades later) a disorder called trichotillomania.  I pulled out my eyelashes and bros and was regularly punished by my adoptive parents.  When I was almost 13 my dad came in and started whipping his belt on my desk describing the damage he was going to do to me.  So while 12 is hard, please know the pain some endure is way beyond this.  I’m 50 and to this day this goes through my head 50x a day.

    1. My daughter is struggling with this right now I think. She’s started pulling hair from her head though. While she was not adopted, I was and I can understand your hurt and frustration as I too had a dad who would get physical instead of listening to me. I’ve never been physical with my daughter. Always try talking things out. I’m not sure what is bothering her as she just doesn’t bring things to the table to talk and I don’t know how to get her to open up to me. I’ve always thought that letting her know she can talk anytime and always just trying to listen instead of react would work. But she doesn’t know why she is pulling her hair and she doesn’t realize when she’s doing it either. I asked her doctor, big mistake. He came into the room and asked her in front of her siblings, myself and a nurse “why are you pulling out your hair?” I was so upset because I told the nurse and doctor before the appointment that’s not how I wanted it to be dealt with. Apparently they ignored the memo. I believe that appointment made it worse for her 🙁

  9. Also – remember that what looks like playful teasing from an older sibling often feels like bullying to your 12-year-old. Instead of brushing it off or telling the target to get over it, take the opportunity to talk to the older sib about respect, care, and kindness. Older siblings often sort of enjoy exerting power over their younger sibs – especially when they are dealing with their own social-emotional challenges. Yes, it’s normal, but no, it doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. Tell your teen that being belligerent or rude to ANYONE is not cool. Ask the older child if she/he would ever speak to a friend in that way. Then remind them that siblings will be their friends long after the cliques and gangs have disappeared. Respect, tolerance, and love all start at home – if we as parents instill them in our kids!

  10. I have a notebook that my daughter can leave me comments so that she doesn’t have to try to articulate in the moment how she’s feeling and if she wants a response she lets me know in the notebook and if she wants it to be a verbal response she lets me though that way or she just wants correspondence and anytime she writes in my notebook she puts it on on my pillow so I can read it at that night and think about how you respond to her that way there’s no response In the Heat of the Moment there’s just open communication it’s worked wonders for us and what stays in the notebook in his ass in the notebook is just between her and I we don’t discuss it with anybody else

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