9 Things Your 12-year-old Needs but Won’t Ask For
It doesn’t require academic research to conclude that middle schoolers are a tough lot. They want to be treated as adults but are still immature in many areas. 12-year-olds will ask you for cell phones and money and they will ask to be driven to the mall, the movies, and to practice. However, there are important things that middle schoolers need, but will not ask for.
Kids thrive on structure. Although they hate to be told what to do and when to do it, they often can’t make a successful schedule on their own. How do middle schools get 700 12-year-olds to all do the same thing? Structure. Routines, when established, can tell your pre-teen what to do and when without you nagging them. A schedule becomes the norm and the expectation.
The most important people in your 12-year-old’s life are their friends. Remember when they were toddlers and even wanted to follow you into the bathroom? Now they follow their friends everywhere (including the mall and on social media). Even if you don’t have a social butterfly, chances are, your preteens are very tuned in to what their friends are doing, saying, wearing, and posting.
Although 12-year-olds think they are grown and mature, they’re still very youthful and energetic. Some may tell you they’re perfectly content to sit and play on a device for hours; however, a bike ride, kicking a soccer ball, or even craft time will do wonders for their energy levels and mood.
Even in middle school, kids are sponges. They notice and take in more than adults realize. They are still learning how to behave and need to be taught. An effective way to teach them desired behaviors is to lead by example. They notice how you talk to your spouse, neighbors, and retail workers; chances are, they’ll follow suit. Try to surround them with as many teachers, coaches, pastors, and other positive role models whose behavior you’d like them to emulate.
Though 12-year-olds can’t begin to vocalize this issue, they are constantly trying to identify who they are. Needless to say, most adults don’t begin to figure this out until well into their twenties or thirties. Nevertheless, teens are searching for a way to fit in. Unfortunately for middle schoolers, this often means placing themselves in a box. They will label themselves as the jock, the class clown, the popular girl, the outcast, or any other of a dozen labels to help them find their place.
One reason kids try to label themselves is to gain acceptance. If they belong to a certain group, they are less likely to be considered a loner and thus, less susceptible to bullying. Kids need to be accepted for who they are – or at least who they think they are. Accepting a child for who they are will give them positive self-esteem. Even if they are not who you want them to be just yet, remember that 12-year-olds will not be 12 forever. Thank goodness!
Along the same vein of acceptance, kids crave attention – it just may not be the kind of attention you typically give to them. They may not want to tell you each detail of their school day, but they want you to attend their volleyball games and chorus concerts, take pictures of them before the school dance, and congratulate them on good grades. It is of utmost importance to a 12-year-old to get as many likes as possible on their Instagram selfie.
I know I just said that preteens want attention and am now telling you to leave them alone, but it’s a delicate balance. Just like adults enjoy their “me” time, 12-year-olds are beginning to need this as well. (HINT: They do not require a device during their private “me” time. That’s asking for trouble.) As scary as it sounds, it is a good time to loosen the reins a bit. 12-year-olds need to make mistakes in order to learn. They’ll need you to step back at times, then step in to help them grow from a mistake. Give them an appropriate amount of privacy, and they’ll give you more respect in return.
Of course you want your middle schooler to learn reading, math, history, and science. But don’t forget about all those soft skills that most jobs require. Teach your child how to be a good teammate, ask for help when needed, solve problems creatively, plan ahead, be coachable, and most of all, to be kind, inclusive, and caring. Middle school is hard, and they’ll need help from parents, teachers, and “the village” in order to be successful.
(Originally published for Pittsburgh Parent Magazine)
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