Your pre-teen child is going through the many rapid changes of adolescence. Girls will undergo breast development, hair growth in the pubic area, under arms and on legs, and menstruation. As boys enter puberty their testicles will drop, hair begins to grow in the pubic area, under arms, and on their legs, chest and face. Boys will also experience changes in their voice, with their speech becoming lower and deeper.
You can expect the rapid physical growth that started around age 10 to continue through this period. The combination of this accelerated growth and your pre-teens growing independence, make reinforcing healthy eating habits extremely important. Talk to your child about limiting high fat, high sugar foods and how to choose more appropriate alternatives. Engage your pre-teen in conversations about their physical activity levels and food choices, and empower them to develop their own healthy habits.
As parents, you play an important role in the life of your pre-teen. At this age, peer pressure plays an influential role in your child’s decision making. At times it can feel like your child is only concerned with the thoughts and feeling of their peers so it’s important to reinforce your position as someone they can turn to and trust. Involvement by adults of both genders is very valuable at this age, offering your child both male and female perspectives at this challenging stage of development.
In addition to the physical changes of puberty, your child experiences new emotions and possibly changes to his or her personality. Many pre-teens can become moody or irritable. Talk to your child about controlling their moods, resolving conflicts and dealing with anger. Teach your pre-teen to respect authority and always remember that they learn by your example.
Watch for any signs of change in your child’s normal behavior, paying close attention to anything that goes against your family values. It’s very important to get to know your child’s friends and their parents. Your child may be struggling with the urge to “fit in” or they may just be curious. Teach your child the concept of self-respect and give them the confidence to say “no” to drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Praise them for their smart choices and talk to them with patience and understanding when they are struggling with these on-going challenges. Reinforce limits and consequences and encourage your pre-teen to express their feelings.
At this age your child still needs about 10 hours of sleep a night. Set a firm bedtime and make sure he or she sticks to it even on weekends. A sleep deficit can affect your child’s mood, cognitive function and overall health. Too much screen time (TV, computer, video games) can agitate your child and should be turned off an hour before bed. Continue to be diligent in monitoring screen time and setting appropriate limits. If your pre-teen has a cell phone always make sure it is turned off at night and preferably out of reach.
It’s now time to introduce sexual education, if you have not done so already. The average age for first sexual experimentation is getting younger, making early guidance and counseling essential. Both boys and girls will have many questions about sex and they may be very self-conscious or embarrassed by these new thoughts and feelings. It is important that you reassure your pre-teen that menstrual periods, erections, and wet dreams are all completely normal. Talk to your pre-teen about the importance of commitment, love and self-esteem when thinking about a sexual relationship. If you’re not comfortable or unsure on what to say, talk to your PHA provider on how best to start a healthy dialogue about sex with your pre-teen.
Next Visit: 13 and 14 year checkup