Your Daughter at 12: Milestones

Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on May 03, 2021

You know what’s coming: the teen years, and all the ups and downs they’re famous for. If you feel relieved that there aren’t 13 candles on your daughter’s cake just yet -- one more year to go -- you might want to think again. Some of those changes may already be happening.

If it hasn’t started already, puberty is just around the corner. As it begins, your daughter will start a growth spurt. They’ll get taller, their hips may widen and their waist narrow. Their breasts will begin to develop, and they’ll start to grow hair in places they never had much before – in theirpubic area, under their arms and on their legs. Thanks to hormones, things are beginning to change.

Your daughter’s emotions may catch you by surprise. One moment they feel like they can do anything. The next they feel like a failure. They're happy, then sad, then happy again. They want to cuddle, then rejects all forms of affection from you. Be positive and supportive. Like all children, they’ll need to know you’re there for them.

Their brain is physically as large as it’s going to get, but won’t stop maturing until they're in their 20s. The prefrontal cortex, which helps with impulse control and organizational skills (planning, reasoning, and problem-solving), still has years left before it’s fully developed. But they're able to express their feelings and think in abstract terms now -- concepts like justice, equality, politics and civics. They're better at problem-solving and logic as well. Planning and thinking of consequences may remain a challenge

That’s because their social awareness is kicking into high gear. It’s a time of transitions and contradictions. They're the center oftheir own universe, but they choose to spend time with friends. They're developing theiridentity but is desperate to fit in.

Use this to your advantage to help them learn how to make good decisions. Highlight a good decision they made at school or in a social activity like sports and  value their individuality. Cite your own examples with your friends. Ask questions about their thought process and how they thought it went. This gives them some much-needed self-esteem for when tougher decisions come up. And, as a bonus, it sets you up as a solid sounding board.

Increased social activity also means heavy-duty exposure to peer pressure. They're making decisions about social media use, tobacco, alcohol, drugs, and varied levels of maturity and curiosity about sex. You may have talked to them about these topics in the past, but it’s time to circle back because they're seeing them through new eyes. Ask them what they're seeing and how they feel about it. Role-play some situations where they might have to make a hard decision. Remind them where you stand with boundaries and consequences.

They may be sensitive and sulky, but that’s normal. Depression looks different. If they have lost interest in activities they normally enjoy, seems agitated or restless or neglects their appearance, it may be time for a talk to a doctor or mental health professional.

Depression may take the form of drug abuse, an eating disorder or self-harm. Changes in their brain chemistry can also trigger mental illnesses such as anxiety disorders.

What they're exposed to online matters just as much as what they're experiencing in real life (or IRL, as they say). Preteens are crafty and know plenty of ways to work around parental controls, so it’s important to keep the online safety conversation going. Talk to them about the way they present themselves online and the effect it can have on college applications, future employment, and more. Educate yourself on the forms of social media they use -- check their accounts and talk to them about what they're sharing and why.

Show Sources


CDC: "Young Teens (12-14 years of age)."

Children's Health: "Wellness by age: 11-12 Years."

National Institute of Mental Health: "The Teen Brain: 6 Things to Know."

Parent Further: "Developmental Overview: Ages 10-14."

Michigan State University Extension: "12- to 14-year-olds: Ages and stages of youth development."

The Center for Parenting Education: "Child Development by Age."

Mayo Clinic: "Teen depression: Symptoms and causes."

Internet Matters: "E-safety for preteens (11-13)."

Oxford University Press: “The Prefrontal Cortex -- Executive and Cognitive Functions.”

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