Developmental Overview: Ages 10-14

What to Expect

Middle school students sitting on a front stoopYoung teens are going through such dramatic changes, it’s normal for them to swing from being happy to being sad or from feeling smart to feeling dumb. They may worry about personal traits that are vital to them, but hardly noticeable to others. With a growing ability to see the consequences of different actions, tweens and young teens are increasingly considering who they are and who they may become. They are more able to think like adults, but they don’t have the experience and judgment needed to act like adults. It’s important to help them recognize that.

What really matters: Your reassurance and acceptance are especially important at this time, as is your tween or teen’s growth in school and community activities. Strong support will help them develop the confidence they need to make healthy choices. Take the quiz on how you provide support to your young teen during this time of transition.

Intellectual Development

  • Most kids enjoy the social aspects of learning. This works well when teachers encourage learning in small groups.
  • Around ages 11, 12, and 13, shifts occur in kids’ thinking. Keep them engaged in school and learning. Encourage their curiosity.
  • Many are strongly influenced by friends, so if they have friends who only want to socialize and not learn, emphasize the importance of having friends and working hard to learn.
  • Many kids move from concrete to abstract thinking. Concrete thinkers focus on the here and now, such as a particular house cat. Abstract thinkers focus on issues that are are not associated with a specific instance. Thus, an abstract thinker can talk about domestic and wild cats, how they’re similar and different, and which ones they believe have more skills than others.
  • Because kids this age have strong emotions, they tend to either “love” school or “hate” it. If your child happens to “hate” school, help her identify parts that are more enjoyable—even if it’s recess, gym, and lunch.
  • Most kids at this age think there is too much homework. Emphasize how homework helps kids learn. Do homework with them. Make it fun. Applaud their learning and new knowledge.

Check It: Take the quiz on increasing effort, then help your young teen develop a growth mindset to persevere in the face of challenges.

Emotional Development

  • Moodiness and roller-coaster emotions emerge during puberty. Kids can be happy one moment and then violently angry or very depressed the next—and you often won’t be able to figure out why. Be patient and gentle with kids, as they experience strong emotions that can quickly change.
  • Many talk in violent terms. “I’ll kill him.” “I want to beat her up.” “He’s so bad, he should die.” Some deal with anger and injustice verbally. Others slam doors or stomp their feet. If they act out in destructive ways, get them help with expressing strong emotion.
  • Emotionally, young teenagers bristle at any physical affection from their parents. Some like a lot of physical affection from their friends while others like to keep their distance.
  • Many kids can become very emotionally sensitive. They’re easily offended and easily hurt.
  • Some kids will give you the silent treatment when they become angry—or if they don’t get their way. Give them time to simmer down. They’ll talk to you again (usually when they need something from you).
  • Some kids begin dabbling in more serious risk behaviors (such as self-harm, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, or having sex). Help kids steer clear of these behaviors. Talk with them about what they’re experiencing—and what they’re seeing going on with their peers. Some are struggling with difficult issues.

Check It: Take the quiz on preventing alcohol and tobacco use, then start talking with your young teen about these important health issues.

Social Development

  • This is the age when peer pressure has the most influence. Kids are more interested in “being the same” and “being accepted.” Thus, many will do things with others they would never do alone.
  • Relationships can become quite complex. Some kids will not speak to others. Some relationships become very intense.
  • Some kids have large shifts in their social circles as they go through puberty. Others withdraw and avoid their peers. Some stick with their friends no matter what.
  • Many kids would rather be social than tend to their school work or other responsibilities. Emphasize how all parts of life are important.
  • Silliness can rule with some kids. Kids at this age can have a twisted sense of humor.
  • Many kids want to spend most of their time with friends. Some homes become tense with young teenagers who like to argue and test. Other homes are calmer with occasional skirmishes. It all depends on the child’s personality.
  • Cliques and tight-knit groups can form. Kids become very aware of who is in which group—even if they’re not always sure where they fit.

Physical Development

  • This is the age when kids need to start using deodorant and learning more personal hygiene. Some go overboard and spend hours in the bathroom. Others resist, refusing to bathe.
  • Puberty reigns at this age. Puberty, however, has several stages for both boys and girls, which is why you’ll see kids developing at different rates between the ages of 8 and 18.
  • With growth spurts come clumsiness and a lack of coordination. It isn’t easy for a person to grow six inches within a few months without his sense of balance being disrupted.
  • Typically, between ages 12 and 14, kids become very aware of their own sexuality and others’ sexuality. Some are nervous about developing too fast. Others are worried about developing too slowly.
  • If your child is not athletic, help her find a sport or physical activity she enjoys. At this age, kids who don’t excel athletically are tempted to avoid all physical activity. Consider martial arts such as kung fu, judo, karate, or tae kwon do, which often appeal to this age group.