A 12 year old is just on the cusp of becoming a teenager which means parents have a few more months to make sure the fundamentals are in place to help them transition to adulthood and survive the roller coaster ride ahead.

If you could be 12 again, would you do it? Having watch all three of our kids dance through this stage, I know it’s not without it’s trips and tricky moments. There are some special times of being 12 and farewelling friends as they move into high school, or start to craft their own identity.

As I look at my three teenager, I also realise that the 12th year was an important time to make sure some fundamentals were in place to set them up well for the next phase of life. I thought 12 was a good number to work with.

Turning 12 marks the halfway point to being an adult, so here's 12 fundamentals for parents to aim on having in place.

On turning 12

A child’s 12th birthday is a big milestone in my books. It’s about the halfway point in their journey to being, let’s hope, a fully self-sufficient adult. Most of their childhood is behind them and they’re on the brink of being a teenager. They’re often making the transition to high school or settling in, and starting to discover their own style, interests and talents.

For many kids the physical changes of adolescence are well underway too. They’re getting taller, their appearance is changing and often their relationships deepen, both at home and school.

Some parents find it hard to let go of their “baby” and accept that their child is growing up, while others will welcome the developing independence and take any friction and attitude in their stride.

12 fundamentals every teenager should have

With the adventure of adolescence before them, 12 year olds are still close enough for parents to model a grown up life and not too distasteful to be dismissed as out of touch. Here are 12 fundamentals that I think parents should focus on developing in those last months of childhood:

  1. Mistakes are learning experiences. In our quest to make the world safer for children, we’ve taken away lots of things that let them take risks. Like monkey bars and rickety ladders and those roundabout things in the park. Those things often taught us all the way through childhood what happens if you take a risk too far, or you don’t judge it right. Our kids have to learn that in other ways, and as parents, we need to accept that they’re going to make mistakes, and even welcome it. Better for them to learn from doing something silly when they’re 11 or 12, than to wind up in jail when they’re 19.
  2. The captain’s always responsible for his own ship. The grounding of the Costa Concordia off Italy in 2012 taught us all that the captain is always in charge of a ship and should never hand over control to the first mate. It’s the same for our kids who need to remember that while their friends might influence them, they’re always responsible for their own actions and need to think through consequences regardless of how good the idea sounds at the time.
  3. Money is easy to spend but harder to make. Most kids won’t get their first job until they are teenagers, but the ability to spend money starts well before then. Unless you want kids to be spending your money for many years to come, without a true appreciation for the work involved in earning it, give them opportunities to work for money or use my ideas in my article on money matters and pay them an allowance that they have control of to learn the art of saving and spending wisely.
  4. Life should be a good balance of work, rest and play. As young people move through their high school years, the pressure to cut down their time to rest and play so they can work harder can be tempting. There will also be kids who allocate more hours than they should to play, at the expense of their sleep and studies. Balance is an important concept that we can be modelling and talking about with our kids as their lives start to get busier and the external pressures to do more come into play.
  5. The clowns are rarely the main entertainment, they’re the support act. As a teacher, I’ve found that there’s always at least one clown in a class who thinks they’re funny, but actually they just tend to grate on everyone else. There’s always room for a good joke and a sense of humour should be cultivated, but constantly being the clown means that kids can develop a reputation or not be taken seriously when they’ve really got something important to say.
  6. Choose friends wisely. The friends kids have in their early years tend to be based on proximity. Others in their class, neighbours or family friends. But as young people move into high school they start to choose friends based more on common interests, character traits and even status. This is when our kids need to learn what qualities to look out for in friends and what sort of friendships stand the test of time. Opportunities to talk about what we like about our friends and theirs might be fleeting, but are worth grasping.
  7. Be the best version of yourself most of the time. Nobody’s perfect all the time, but being the best version of yourself means that you’re focusing more on your good qualities than your weaknesses. While kids will and should be allowed to make mistakes, we also want them to be learning to act responsibly, be kind and considerate, to respect others and to put in their best effort when they walk out the front door.
  8. Happiness is a choice, not a result. The media tells us if we just buy this product, go to this place or do these things, we’re going to be happy. How far is that from real life? The tween years are the perfect time to nip consumerism in the bud and help kids to understand that if you let external things determine you joy, you’ll never be truly happy.
  9. You can’t really stand out from the crowd if you’re too busy following it. We live in the age of the individual, yet we constantly seek to fit in with others. Somehow we need to help our kids work out their uniqueness without feeling like too much of an outsider.
  10. Most people who experience success get it through hard work, not luck. Another myth our kids pick up through the media is that people who experience success have done so purely through luck. Sure there’s often a bit of luck that comes into play, but often that’s because successful people have positioned themselves to be in the right place at the right time. Life is only lucky for a handful of lotto winners, and for the rest of us, we’re going to have to craft our own success by having a plan and working steadily towards that day after day.
  11. Being polite never goes out of style. I don’t know what more I can say about this one, other than it’s true. Learning to talk to adults, behave at the dining table and conduct themselves in public when their parents aren’t around should be well and truly mastered as they enter the teenage years.
  12. Life is full of things we don’t like but the trick is to hide them among the things we do. Peas are a big issue in our house, but now at least most of our family will just get on with eating them, even if they don’t really like them. There are plenty of other things that can be “peas” in life. Homework, chores, family events or even shopping trips. Learning to just “suck it up” is an essential skill to getting along in life.

Every birthday is a milestone, but I think turning 12 is definitely a turning point between childhood and the teenage years. Making sure these fundamentals are in place before you hit the teens should help you navigate the rough patches rather than finding yourselves on the rocks.

What do you think of these fundamentals? Are there others that you think 12 year olds need to have? I’d love you to share them below.

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