Your 5 Minute Guide to Typical 12-year-old Development

Jun 1, 2021

by Camille Everett

Creator of Be That Place

Handwritten notes and lunchtime chats from students kickstarted Camille's mission to help families teach sex ed at home. She is a graduate of Utah State University with a bachelor’s in Secondary Health & English Education. She loves having real conversations while devouring bowls of chocolate peanut butter ice cream.

Young teen going babysitting in business attire and cat ear headband

Twelve-year-olds can be a really entertaining group of kids. They frequently jump back and forth between childlike play and determined maturity.

Ever changing, these kids may seem to switch characters overnight. But don’t worry. It’s part of exploring an identity that feels right to them. And that identity comes with time and experience.

These kids are more witty with words and jokes and love using new slang terms from music and pop culture.

They are also unpredictable as they try to navigate new social situations, new feelings, and new desires to grow into a more adult identity.

Twelve-year-olds generally care more about the opinions of peers than of parents as they become very aware of fitting in. They spend a fair amount of time looking in the mirror to compare and analyze who they are becoming.

12-year-old development


  • Often feel confident speaking with adults outside of the home.
  • Are very social with others their age.
  • May become moody or silent at home while they reflect on and make sense of their day.
  • May have a difficult time getting up in the morning since adolescence can bring altering sleep patterns.
  • Prioritize activities and tasks important to them and may offer excuses for not following through on other responsibilities.
  • Readily try to negotiate family rules that feel more fair to them.
  • Still need structure and involved parenting authority.

Social and emotional milestones


  • Find great satisfaction in coming-of-age activities and ceremonies that recognize their growth.
  • May try several different adult personalities as they establish their own identity.
  • Are enthusiastic and often spontaneous.
  • Typically care more about the opinion of peers than of teachers and parents.
  • Willingly create new friendships.
  • Become increasingly more empathetic and tolerant.
  • Need access to other trusted adults who will listen and talk to them about serious issues, including alcohol, sex, drugs, violence, and family problems.
  • Will initiate social interaction outside of school and find activities to entertain themselves without help from parents.
  • Want their home to be a safe environment to sort through their feelings.

Cognitive milestones


  • Can set short term goals and go through the planning process to achieve these goals.
  • Want parents to listen to their ideas.
  • May show advanced talent or skill in specific areas of interest like science, music, or drawing.
  • Begin to think abstractly and can discuss more complicated moral issues. 
  • Can sort fact from fiction when looking at evidence or information.
  • Are aware of the development of characters and themes over time, such as in trilogies.
  • Show more ability to express opinions and feelings in writing, especially when related to current events.
  • Like to be given choices in how and when they accomplish tasks.

Ethics & self direction


  • Want to be mentored — by parents and other trusted adults.
  • Are willing to earn money by taking on jobs like babysitting, yard work, and animal care.
  • Establish leadership potential when given opportunities to be in charge of things like tutoring younger kids, student government, and service projects.
  • Appreciate talking about historical or current events that relate to issues in their lives.
  • Can see both points of view in an argument but like arguing only one side.

Sexual development

Some 12-year-olds may reach sexual maturity by this age, although it’s important to understand that sexual maturity does not inherently create sound decision making. These kids are still practicing cognitive, social and emotional skills to navigate new experiences.

Some 12-year-olds…

  • Are sexually aware of their peers.
  • Have become sexually mature physically — males can ejaculate and females have started their periods.
  • Are consuming media that may contain strong sexual messages.
  • Are developing attitudes and opinions about sexual expression and behaviors.
  • Are strongly influenced by peers when adopting certain beliefs about sexuality, gender, and romantic relationships. 
  • Need a more mature understanding of intercourse, reproduction and other sexual behaviors and attitudes to help them differentiate sexual fact from fiction.

That list was short — which is why you’ll find more sexual milestones in this other post about sexual development in adolescents.

How parents and kids can thrive — not just survive

As a parent, you can…

  • Develop a healthy amount of humor, patience, and restraint when dealing with criticisms from your 12-year-old.
  • Express confidence in your kid’s decision making skills and listen to their ideas. 
  • Model appropriate adult-like behavior. Assess your actions to see if your example is in line with your words.
  • Use teachable moments when talking about sexuality. Media brings up sexual issues regularly. You can easily find examples of sexual behaviors, attitudes, values, stereotypes and consequences just by being attentive.
  • Be genuinely interested in listening when they are willing to talk, regardless of the topic or time of day.
  • Show confidence in setting limits. Kids want to feel secure, but they also want to feel independent and trusted. Consider their suggestions on altering rules or routines.
  • Sometimes kids just want to talk to someone other than their parents. Help them identify other trusted adults that share your same values.
  • Differentiate clearly between facts, beliefs, values and opinions when talking about sexuality. Sexuality is a complex issue — no one sees it exactly the same. Acknowledge this while simultaneously sharing your personal values.
  • Practice what you’d say and how you’d react in moments that catch you off guard.
    • “That’s a great question. Let me find an answer, and we’ll talk again tomorrow night.”
    • “I can see you’re concerned about this. Let me get my thoughts together, and we’ll talk again in an hour.”
    • “I’m glad you came to me. Can you tell me more about it?”


It’s also important to note that according to the National Center on the Sexual Behavior of Youth, “A small but significant number (about 7 to 10 percent) of children are involved in more explicit sexual activity, including sexual intercourse, by the age of 13.”

Keep in mind that parents have the amazing opportunity to positively influence how their kids think, feel, and behave. At some point though, your young teen will determine their own opinions, beliefs, and behaviors about sexuality. No matter what your teen chooses, the best thing you can do is show genuine love and concern while you continue open and honest conversations with them. 

Naturally, adolescents who have chosen to be sexually active will need more specific information regarding sexual safety in relationships, pregnancy prevention, and protection from sexually transmitted infections. A parent can continue to influence future choices about healthy sexuality even with an adolescent that is currently sexually active.

  1. Yardsticks: Child and Adolescent Development Ages 4-14 by Chip Wood
  2. Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). “What is Normal Childhood Sexual Development?” Families are Talking, vol. 3, no. 4, 2015,
  3. National Center on the Sexual Behavior of Youth (NCSBY). Accessed 20 May 2021.
  4. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN). “Sexual Development and Behavior in Children.”