6 Conversations to Have with Your Kid by Age 12

6 Conversations to Have with Your Kid by Age 12

The top parenting talks moms and dads need to have with their almost-teens.

By Heather Chaet

How does one describe the essence of 12-year-olds? They are moody, yet truly sweet. They are whip smart, yet a little doofy. They are savvy, yet rather innocent. They are followers, yet independent. Yup, 12-year-olds are complex creatures, and with them, come complex parenting issues.

Helping your 12-year-old navigate that crazy, wackadoodle tween world is your main job as a mom. But really, how are you supposed to do that when you can barely keep up with your kid’s hormonal mood swings or ever-changing friendships? We chatted with some parenting gurus, who gave us the lowdown on the essential conversations every mom should have with her 12-year-old.

1. The Think-Beyond-Yourself Talk
It’s very easy for every 12-year-old to think the world only revolves around him or her. This is exactly why this is the time to have a talk about the importance of thinking of others and respecting everyone, what they look like, or what they have or don’t have.

“Talk with your children about how important it is to consider another's feelings,” says parenting expert Ruth Zemnoff, EdD. “Get them involved in some activity that is greater than themselves. No matter what you and your family are lacking, some family is lacking more. It is up to each of us to help whomever we can.” Helping and respecting others can be reinforced in a variety of ways, notes Zemnoff, who suggests a tween do small things to help others, such as carry in trash cans for an elderly neighbor or teach a younger child how to play soccer.

2. The Substance Abuse Talk
Talking about the dangers of addictive substances is one of the most important conversations you will have with your tween. Beyond telling them to “just say no,” experts suggest parents explain to kids the effect substance abuse can have on the body and prepare them for dangerous peer pressure situations they may need to excuse themselves from.

“By age 12, parents should be addressing this on a very frank basis, including the effects of substance abuse on our bodies and minds, as well as the inevitable challenges that will come up at middle school and high school parties,” says lifestyle and parenting strategist Natalie Blais. “Kids should know the impact of chemicals on their minds and bodies, and be aware of the danger signs to look out for with friends.”

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3. The Bullying Talk
No one wants to think her child may be a victim of bullying or stand by silently as someone else becomes one, but often, kids don’t have the skill set to deal with a bullying situation. Opening a dialogue with your 12-year-old about this tough topic is essential. “Be very candid and clear, and ask your child if they felt that they had ever experienced bullying, or if they had ever observed it happening to one of their friends,” advises education technology and cyberbullying expert David Ealy. “Ask them what they thought about the person who acted like a bully, and what it would feel like to be a victim of bullying or cyberbullying.”

Ealy suggests parents provide their kids with strategies for different bullying scenarios, especially ones that don’t involve them directly. “Ask how they could help someone who was a victim of bullying and offer them more options to report an incident beyond telling a teacher,” says Ealy.

4. The (Second) Digital Talk
Hopefully, by the time your kid reaches 12, you’ll have had more than a few chats about cell phone use, privacy, and online safety. The main conversation now turns to the tricky element of communicating via devices. “At 12, many kids now have smartphones and easy access to social media and electronic communication,” says Blais. “They need to understand the consequences of distributing photos without someone’s consent or knowledge and the impact of this behavior on not only their lives, but the lives of the others.”


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What else is part of this digital talk? Explaining the nuances of texting and emails, and reinforcing the habit of never texting or emailing something that they wouldn’t say in person. Blais also suggests talking about how the choices your child makes today leave a digital footprint that can affect him years from now. “As kids move through life, they will be consistently searched for online by employers, volunteer organizations, and so much more,” says Blais. “Teach them good digital citizenship and how to ensure their digital footprint is the one they want to leave behind.”

5. The (Second) Money Talk
Kids around the age of 12 are beginning to grasp the complex realities of life, including those having to do with money. “Now is a great time to start talking about money issues with kids,” says parenting expert Jennifer Chung. “Have them take part in the monthly budget. Explain to them the costs that are involved in running the household, from the mortgage payment and utilities to extracurricular activities and savings.”

Jessica Biren Caverly, PhD, agrees. “While parents shouldn’t show the child the credit card bill, a 12-year-old can appreciate the fact that his or her parents have bills to pay that might supersede things like entertainment or dining out.” Caverly recommends experimenting with kid-friendly online savings websites. “A number of these websites have separate parent and child controls, so that the child can see their money and plan savings for desired items,” she explains. “Many of the programs can be started with only a few dollars.”

6. The Ethics Talk
From bullying to lying, kids are confronted with ethical dilemmas every day. “At this age, kids finally start forming the cognitive capacities for ethical thinking,” notes digital literacy educator Diana Graber. “This is an important milestone.” As this mental shift occurs, “What would you do?” conversations help give them essential coping strategies for those real life situations. Also, be sure to touch on those dilemmas they may encounter online. “They’ll need these ethical thinking skills as they start using the online social networks that they will finally be old enough to join at 13,” says Graber.

Which of these talks have you had?

Heather Chaet documents her mini parenting successes, epic mommy fails, and everything in between for a plethora (love that word!) of publications and websites such as CafeMom, New York Family, and AdWeek. While her online persona is found at heatherchaet.com, Heather lives in New York City with her film director husband and one insanely curious, cat-obsessed daughter.

Image ©iStock.com/ClarkandCompany

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The "Bullying talk" should be at every age. Not just 12. I have a wonderful 9 year old that gets bullied at school. Talk to your children all the time. Not just at section ages.

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