Kitchen Fun With My 3 Sons

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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44 comments

  1. I have raised 4 . Currently at age 12 with the 5th. It is definitely a hard age. I really have no advice. They were all completely different at 12. I raised 2 boys and 2 girls. Neither of the boys acted the same at 12 and neither did the girls. I have one more child after this to get through the awkward preteen years. Good luck to all the other moms & dad’s who are just trying to survive raising kids to upstanding adults.

  2. My just turned 13 grandson was being challenged by his parents cause he was getting a bit lazy about his chores. He told them they just dont appreciate how much energy its taking him to do that all the thinking he is doing these days. Had to laugh(not in front of him!) but really, they are truly analyzing EVERYTHING at this age. It has to be exhausting!!

  3. I read somewhere ‘when they deserve your love the least is when they need it the most’.  I remind myself of that when my kids are testing me and try always to respond with love. 

    • That is a wonderful phrase. Thanks for sharing 

    • yes yes yes to this!!! I find the more he pushes me away the more he actually wants me present!!!!

      • I have a 12 year old daughter and we are very close. I substitute teach and when I’ve been at her school the kids make comments such as “I can’t believe you talk to your mom”. It is bittersweet. I don’t have a magical thing I did. I can’t even say when she goes through the teens she will still want to talk to me (I hope she does). I think the main thing is I listen. I listen to the serious stuff, I listen to the silly stuff, and I listen to the ever so long drama filled explanation about herself and peers. I also have a 13 year old son. He is much quieter. He is closer to my husband so speaks more openly with him than myself. Which is OKAY! As long as our children know there is a safe loving adult that they can turn to. I’d rather that adult be myself or my husband. But all children don’t have that luxury. So just being a safe loving adult is necessary to make sure all our children make it through this and all stages of life.

  4. Never lie to your kids. No matter how hard the conversation or question is, do not lie to them. I have had several situations over the years where I was able to say to my daughter “have I ever lied to you” and she knew I hadn’t. She knows I will always be truthful, no matter how hard the subject is to discuss.

    • Great comment. I have told my kids to always tell the truth to me. I use this example, “Someday you’re going to need me to believe you, when maybe a teacher or another student is saying something you did, that you didn’t do. If you always tell me the truth, then I can always stand up for you knowing you’ve always been truthful with me.”

  5. At this age teens are less likely to approach the parents when they have things on their mind because they are not sure how to express themselves. They are usually wait for parents to pursue them.

    • I have an almost 12 granddaughter who has been living with me since she was 5. Her dad is an addict and her mom is bipolar. I worry that she will inherit the bipolar gene as it runs in her mom’s family. I worry that she might become an addict because addiction runs in our family. It seems like overnight she changed from a loving, caring, and helpful human being into an angry, selfish, unresponsive version of a person I do not recognize. I know her parents have disappointed her and that has definitely played a role in her angry behaviors, but I believe that starting middle school and trying to fit in with the other middle schoolers plays a big part in how she is feeling and behaving. She is introverted, extremely intelligent, and moody. I find myself at a loss as to how to deal with this young girl whom I don’t even recognize anymore. I feel as though the bond we once shared has been broken and I want it back. I’m just trying to be patient and I continue to love her unconditionally in the hopes that this phase she is going through will run its coarse. It’s hard for me to understand how she feels sometimes as I am extremely extroverted and wear my heart on my sleeve. I know one day we will connect again, but until that day I hope I can be patient, kind, and understanding because being a 12 yr old and upcoming teenager is hard and stressful in a world where technology, social media, and bullying is so prevalent in the world. So I wait, I wonder, I worry about her future in a society where people can sonetimes be so unkind. I just know we will eventually connect and our relationship will be less tense and awkward, but until then just know that I love you.

  6. I am now a grandma of 6, yet still remember like it was yesterday how painful being 12 was. One minute your parents were mad at you for wanting the same privilages as your older siblings, telling you that you were too young for that, and the next minute they said ‘you should know better- you’re not a baby’ about something else. I felt I was always wrong, no matter what I said, did, or chose, and it was so embarrassing that I couldn’t get my 5’6″ body to behave at all, when I believed other girls were more dainty, petite, and graceful. It took me years to realize the girls I admired as perfect felt just as awkward and uncomfortable in their skin as I did- some were just better at hiding that, or could ‘fake it ’til you make it’ better than I could!!

  7. There are so many truths in here! I have a (almost) 12 year old and I found myself nodding and getting teary eyed while reading this. Thank you for sharing.

  8. My advice… when angry try and stay calm. Let the first wave of anger pass and then talk sincerely from your heart, then kiss and make up followed by perhaps something fun to share. I find that a good laugh between you and your kid takes away the deepest grudge, calms the mind. A much needed bonding after the storm. And there are many to come when children become teenagers…)

  9. Have fun with them and be interested in what they are interested in. Even if you aren’t really interested, ask them questions about it.

  10. The hardest thing is our 12 year old son had lots of interests and we could easily entertain and engage him. This year, we have not been able to do this at all. What can I do to continue to have fun with him? I realize he’s growing up, and being his mom has always been enjoyable. This year, I can’t even figure out how to be his mom.

    • This might sound crazy, but my son(now 20), when we went through this awkward phase where he didn’t want to tell me anything, we started conversing over text messages. He just felt more comfortable not having to be in the same room. Maybe so he couldn’t see my initial reaction. But it worked and we eventually moved on to having our convos face to face. Good luck! His little brother is 11 going on 12 and I’m back to the drawing board in communication with him.

  11. I’m starting a jr hi teaching job. I love this age of kids but have never been a Mom. This story and all these comments are AWESOME. 

  12. I’ve raised one, now raising another. I always kept the lines of communication open, always told the truth even when it made me cringe, and never hovered.

    We’ve already made a deal that he’s never to be afraid or ashamed to come to us; no matter the reason.

  13. Thanks for this article!  It is a good reminder as my 11 year old starts middle school next year.  It is hard as a parent to slow down and really listen without any distractions.  I find that when I am able to do this, our relationship is much better.  If I am too busy we struggle and are not as close for sure.  

  14. Listen to them when they talk to you about the little things (like video games)… because that’s what they care about. And soon there will be big things and they will know you’ll be there to listen. 

  15. My daughter is 15 now. Always acknowledge their feelings, even if you don’t understand them or agree with them. Everyone is entitled to feel how they feel. Listen to them when they come to you about an issue even if you think it is a silly or minor issue. Whatever they come to you with, it’s important. Listen when they just want to chat about their day, video games, music, their friends, their teachers. If you listen to the every day things with enthusiasm, they are much more likely to bring the bigger stuff to you as well. Also, sometimes they just need space, even from their parents. If they don’t want to talk, are too upset to talk, are too angry to talk, let them go and have some time to themselves. Bring up the situation again when everyone is calm and ready. You can’t push them into talking to you without causing more harm than good.

  16. Show interest in what they are telling you about, even if it is about a Tik Tok video or a game they played, if you listen and engage with them, eventually they will talk to you about the big stuff too. Let them listen to their music in the car (drives me nuts) but I ask her questions about the artist and lyrics and the conversation just grows. My daughter is 12 and moody, hormonal and angry, but I just hug her often and give her her space when she needs it. She is really a great kid. Middle School is hard and she has dealt with bullying since 5th grade because of her acne, but I just build her up each day to let her know, we love her and she is a great person on the inside and eventually the world will see her beauty on the outside like I do. Then I tell her, you are going through puberty early, and when your face clears up everyone else will have zits, makes her laugh every time. Cherish them!! She pushes my buttons, and I yell more than I like, but wouldn’t change a thing.

  17. Yes, I have a 12 year old son! For this exact reason, I have launched the YOUTH VISION MOVEMENT which is taking the fundamental life skill of success to our Middle Schoolers – please go to http://www.youthvisionmovement.com to learn more!

    It take a village, a community of parents, youth leaders and people who truly care to empower our Teens now a days…we live in such a different ERA where everything we are dealing with as parents and kids has been dealt with before such as social media, internet access, having information at our fingertips and real time information.

    At any rate, it is so critical to catch our youth when they are at this very critical age and teach them Confidence / Positive Self Image, Communication Skills, Conflict Resolution, the Power of Perception, etc. Let’s make this movement count, let’s connect and collaborate to empower our youth to reach their greatest potential and spread more light in this world that can seem to be so dark sometimes.

    God Bless!

  18. Great article! Helpful reminders ! 

  19. My son was diagnosed with a rare life-threatening chronic illness at 12 – and I try to explain to others how that has impacted him in so many ways. Thank you for writing something that I can share that explains from someone other than his mom what I have been saying.

  20. When I am more than frustrated with my 12 year old and I call my Mom for advice she always says “you just have to love him through it”. It’s a powerful statement. 

  21. love them! Respect them as people. My 12 year old daughter absolutely hates when someone says “ you are 12, what do you know?”  basically making her feel less than, but she deserves an opinion and I try to always remember that. I love her more than life but it is hard and I try to remember it’s not just me that things are hard for . ❤️

  22. Re: #2. For many kids learning about the opposite sex won’t be the issue. For kids experiencing same sex attraction, this period in their life can be extra extra hard. Make sure they know from a young age that gay and trans people exist and that no matter who they are and who they love, they are perfect just the way they are and that you love them no matter what. 

    • So true and very important to stress.  I saw this post on my sister’s FB page and said there should be a 2b.  Learning about the same sex is tricky too.   This is about the age boys who are interested in sports go that direction and friendships change if the other boy isn’t interested.  I’m not saying all gay boys are not interested in sports as I have friends who are gay professional (even super bowl player) athletes.  I’m saying their interest can change at this point of life and it can be stressful working through the changes. 

  23. UGH ALL OF THIS! I feel every bit of his growing up and luckily he is still a baby at heart.

  24. My son was 12 and a half when my husband, his dad passed away. Jake is now 33 and has struggled with many issues from alcohol abuse to drugs. I know I can’t blame his dad passing as the only source but I think it was a big contender. He had a great hands on dad that was wonderful. He has been clean for over a year, but still lives in sober living and looking for a job. Presently is on felony probation. I agree 12 is a pivotal year in a boys life.

  25. It’s important to talk to them about the same sex too. I have always told my daughter that you love who you love, regardless of gender. I have taught her to be accepting of everyone, regardless of how they identify, qualities that I believe will serve her well in life.

  26. My daughter began a 8 year depression when she was 12. She was our first child and only girl. I didn’t realize she was depressed more than any other pre-teen girl.  She is still fighting, but is now opening up about how she felt at 12.  I think we need to be more alert with mental illness as our babies hit puberty. It may not all be a normal way to feel. She was 16 before we realized she needed professional help. 

  27. I’m on my 3rd 12 year old child. I thought I was ready since I’ve already mothered  2 other children changing . I was wrong. My sweet little boy turned into an angsty 12 year old over night, or so it seems and it totally caught me off guard. Thank you for this insightful post!  It helps to know I’m not alone! 

  28. I am a single Mom with CPTSD raising a 12yr old girl and a 11yr old boy both with CPTSD. I was not prepared for this age nor am I prepared to go through it alone times 2. I catch myself spending hrs on pinterest looking for advice to help understand my 2 sweet bold ever emotionally changing children.
    I am in my early 30s and being a 12yr old is nothing like it was when I was 12, due to technology.
    At a very young age I told my children on a regular basis they can talk to me about anything. It started out as I broke a toy, then I said a bad word, to my friends didn’t share, and now my children are very open with asking me questions about anything and EVERYTHING, to the point that can make me blush. I would rather them ask then not and try to figure it out for themselves.

    Starting at age 3 once a month I sit down with each of my children separately and say: now is your opportunity to tell me or ask me anything you want even if its embarrassing, gross, weird, etc. I wont get mad, you wont get in trouble we will talk it through and work it out together. TRUTH ~ HONESTY ~ LOVE ~ FAMILY

  29. From 1 to 20, kids are born capable of learning and finding themselves, many living in as much pressure at home as away from home so they turn outside and away from parents seeking acceptance, security, shelter, and what they define as love. No child wants a constant bombardment of your ideas, your ways, your thoughts, your dreams! Every child wants freedom to be themselves whatever that may be without the guilt and stress of measuring up to your expectations or sacrificing all their desires for yours. There is a tremendous need to stop trying to create mini-mes, reliving your life through your children. They dont want to be you! They dont need to bare the burdens and weight of
    Your adult choices! They need guidance but with room to make mistakes without ridicule and building resentment and rebellion from your perceptions. Allow them to see life and you are not perfect! To be loved and accepted because of their uniqueness and who they are! Give them clear footsteps to follow and clean examples to live by. Instill hope, faith, love through Jesus! Stop alianating them from family, friends, church, school, childhood opportunities with your jealousy, idiocracy, instabilities, and personal dysfunction! It’s not fair to them! Be the adult, be the family, remembering that you are the parent, you are not their whole, and your title does not define your identity in their lives! Your actions define your love, your place in their hearts, even their thoughts, and will never determine their own identities! Let them be the child, enjoy childhood without the responsibility of being more than you! Often your expectations are too high, that creates failure and insecurity with low self-estem! Learn to listen and see what they are often too afraid to speak. Create God loving children instead of parent fearing children! After all it’s a parents duty to love, encourage, protect, and sacrifice for their children! Not the other way around! If your child sees or feels differently they will seek what they need elsewhere! Love outgives ones self with open mind, open ears, and an open heart! Gods most precious gift is a child!

  30. I may not be there yet with my daughter, but I think of these comments are foolish, “give them space, don’t hover” sounds to me some of you are trying to be their friend, more than their parents. And if any parent on here thinks because you have always been honest with your kid, that they are being honest with you…..that’s funny! I look at these 20 somethings now and I am starting to understand why they have no life skills, and only care about how they feel and their safe place in the world. The world is not like that why do you as parents still want to teach your kids that. Their feelings don’t matter, to a boss when they need someone to work that overtime….or if you brake something the boss ain’t going to give you space to calm down, and if they do, it’s a pink slip. 12 is when you should start to teach them about how much the world will hurt you if they don’t PAY ATTENTION! And that they need to learn how to deal with emotional shit now, because in just a few years nobody will care! 

    • I think the basis of this article is being your child’s safe place from a world where ALL of what you’ve said is true. The harsh reality is waiting for them as adults, but they need to know that home and Mum and/or Dad are there for them to work through everything the world is throwing at them – I really don’t think they need us as parents being the harsh reality as well. I’ve raised 2 older children and now on my 3rd who is currently 12. Each is different, though well aware how tough being an adult in this world can be – BUT they need to know that IM there for them, regardless. 

  31. I raised 4 boys.  I found that when they are upset about something, I would tell them that I can see that they are upset and I didn’t want to pry, however, when they are ready to talk about it, I’ll be here.  
    It took the pressure off of both of us.  I wasn’t following them around asking questions and it allowed them to come to me without anxiety.  It might take a couple of days, but they usually sought me out. 

  32. I have a 13 year old and she loves to talk back when I tell her something like give me your phone its time for bed she’ll come back and say why she has to give me her phone at night for one she will stay up all night on the phone and don’t get enough sleep she says I don’t spin no time with her when u talking to me like u do and don’t know how to listen I don’t and she will look at you and lie when you know she lieing she says I m not lieing I need some advice

  33. My best advice…find their time to talk… I have two different experiences with two different 12 yr olds.   The oldest chose the car… he would talk about all of his hopes and fears… as long as it was just the two of us heading somewhere in the car… nothing was off limits… we still have our best talks when he is driving home from work….

    My youngest is currently 12… and he will grunt and is a one word assassin right up until he is relaxed and ready for bed…and then he talks and talks and talks… some nights we let him ramble for 30 mins or so and call it a night.. on the days when he is wrestling with things that make him mad, sad, or anxious we(his dad or I) settle in and snuggle and let him talk until he falls asleep… it happened frequently as he entered middle school les often now… but some nights he walks in and just says he needs to snuggle… 

    Sometimes it means we need an extra cup of coffee to start the day but It’s a small price to pay to stay connected to my son!

  34. BOOBIES? This is why teenage girls cringe…..

  35. Hi. I had a 12 yr old girl (15 now) and soon to be 12 year old boy (11).
    What I’ve always done is encourage them to speak to me. To tell me things that make them feel good and especially things that don’t feel right. They speak their minds, even if it means they don’t agree with us as parents (must be done respectfully). This is how I was reared and today still my mom (single parent) is my best friend. I can speak to my mom about anything… Well maybe keep the sex talk stuff for my other best friend who is the same age as me .
    I can see that my son is going to be a challenge. It’s very confusing having an older sister that can do stuff he can’t… Very normal if there is a 2+ gap as you reach you teen years. What I love is that I often hear my daughter telling my son to always be honest with mom. She’ll add that yes mom may be dissappointed but if mom found out you lied and what the lie was about, then not only will mom be dissappointed but she will be angry too and that is when you get grounded!!
    I hope that I’m on the right path being, what I consider, a progressive millennium parent. All we need to really do is to make them realise home is where their safety net is and even tho the world may judge and redicule them, there is a place at home where we accept each other because we love each other unconditionally ❤️