Advice about 10-12 Year Olds

Archived Q&A and Reviews


12 year old is not jazzed by anything - suggestions?

May 2011

I am concerned about my 12 year old son. He is not involved in any sport, music or any other extra curricular activity. His dad is not a ''doer'' and we are separated, therefore I have no control over what he does half of the week. His dad will not listen to my concerns that this situation is leading to isolation, depression and a lack of self confidence--and maybe ''idle hands'' down the road.

Our son has some good friends from elementary school but has not really made any new good friends since middle school started this year. He is being treated for depression and inattentive ADHD, so when he comes home from school, he just likes to chill with his pets and his video games and the occasional bike ride or hang out with a friend, that is, he doesn't like to do anything structured. And, of course, there is homework.

He has tried Little League, music lessons, tennis lessons, martial arts and a few other things but not for a long time. His school has lots of after school activities, but I have not been successful in getting him to participate for the reasons listed above. I don't know what to try and interest him in that I can have him do just half the week, and am looking for suggestions for activities and any ideas for dealing with this situation. Anon

We have 3 children 13, 14 and 18, who have never liked the ''organized activities'' in general until after age 12. I think that is perfectly ok. They love to do stuff at home, they are never bored. They wanted a pet for many, many years and finally got a hamster and were completely thrilled, now they have a bunny. Eventually each one found an activity(my son tennis, and my daughters violin, orchestra) which they enjoy, but it had to be the right one, they were not interested in trying out a bunch of them. Kids know what they need. I think it's ok not to worry. It is great to offer, but not necessary to worry about it. You can be more creative during unstructured time. Pets and an occasional friend seems great for that age! A.

My son was like yours. No sports no extracurricular anything, just wanted to be on the computer, watch TV. Then last summer a friend asked him to do a crew camp for a week at Oakland Strokes, and they ended up joining the Novice team in the fall. It has been transforming for my son. it is very different than many activities-you don't need to be an amazing athlete, a lot of the boys don't fit in elsewhere. My son loves it. Try to convince your son to do a camp there, they have them for middle schoolers and high schoolers. I have heard this from many parents-their son was not really interested in anything, and then they joined crew, and it changed their lives. anon

Sports and music are not the only extra-curricular things out there. If he enjoys animals, try 4-H, Lamorinda has a great program, and just through the tunnel from Berkeley. 4-H is a great program, it really teaches kids leadership and public speaking as well as anything your son is interested in. The 4-H club also has other things such as, small engines, robotics, cooking, you name it. And if they don't have something he can create his own project as long as you agree to be the ''leader''. And he only has to commit to 2 meetings a month (One general meeting and 1 meeting about the project, the rest can be on his own time). Another option, When I was a middle schooler I volunteered at a vet clinic on weekends and got to be around animals and see how a vet hospital was run. Last, but not least, I see that one of the members here is looking for a short-term host family and that might be an option for you. A ''big-brother'' who can spend some time with your son. If they hit it off, a little brother takes on similar interests as the ''older brother''. I do have a little experience in this as I also work for a non-profit exchange program. I find that a lot of times, kids that do not have a specific interest are just really interested in a lot of things and would really benefit from meeting kids with different backgrounds and perspectives. Good luck and don't give up! He just hasn't found ''his thing'' yet Candace

Pre-teen attitude: talking back and contradicting

Oct 2010

Hi there, Our used-to-be-oh-so-sweet daughter has turned into a sassy pre-teen with attitude (talking back, contradicting on everything, eye-rolling, etc.) who does a lot of texting. She's still our pride and joy and we love her more than anything, but we're now doubting the wisdom of having a child.

How are you handling the talking back and the constant contradicting, while allowing the kid personal growth and in the meantime maintaining your own sanity?

We'll take the eye rolling and the shoulder shrugging without complaints. We very much appreciate any advices you have. Anonymous

There is not much you can do about the attitude and the correcting. I take on the correcting as a dual mental challenge:

1) If my daughter corrects me, and I really am right, I calmly point out the flaw in her logic and move on. When she is right (actually quite often) and I thank her for pointing that out.

2) Staying calm. :)

The attitude change is very interesting to observe for me. I try to think like an anthropologist observing a teenager ''in the wild''. :)

Whenever I get some attitude about her having to do something she doesn't want to (like taking her lunch to school instead of buying it), I just say ''It's good for you. It builds character'' and leave it at that. By now she knows whining isn't going to work, so she does some more eye-rolling and then drops it. :)

Those are my coping mechanisms.

Well, first off....this is normal teen behavior? Does this really make you question your decision to have had a child regardless of your comment that she is (or was) the most special being on earth? WEre you ever a teen? I was! And when my own teens act like raving lunatics, I recall my own antics, along with keeping in mind the 'continuum' on which mine fall. Someone just told me how great my son is, how politely he behaves, and I said, 'could this really be the same kid that called me a f***ing idiot last week?!!?'' Sounds as if your daughter is separating from you (normal), and identifying with her 'peeps'(also normal!). It's ugly behavior, and to 'go along' with it seems complicit, but fear not! By all means, do not alienate her. Have you tried telling her that he untoward behavior will just result in consequences like her 'iPod Touch' being confiscated? Perhaps rather than making it punitive, you might tell her how it hurts your feelings ( if it indeed, does?!) Very difficult raising difficult teens! Be easy on yourself! Anon

12-year-old son is unfairly being labeled as a bad kid

April 2009

Any advice on how to repair a child's reputation? My son, 12, was involved in a dirt-throwing incident 6 months ago. He was among a group of 7 boys who threw dirt at a wall. He was the only one who admitted guilt and we supported him. (Others lied or cried and escaped punishment). Problem is, he has now been labeled a bad kid. To make matters worse, a parent of one of the kids involved, phoned other parents whose kids were not involved to say her son was just following my son's lead. (She drunkenly apologized to me at a Christmas party that she'd hoped to garner sympathy and more play dates for her son by phoning other parents). A second parent whose son competes with mine for academic team spots, is spreading the rumor of my son's questionable personality in having him remain on teams. Stunned, we met with my son's teachers, coaches and principal and were assured he's a great kid who made a dumb choice. Their advice is to ignore it. However, play dates have dried up. I wouldn't care, except he's walking on eggshells, doubting himself and is really sad. The unfounded reputation could also keep him from the private high school he wants to attend. He is losing confidence. Any advice? Sam

Hi. I think you're worrying WAY TOO MUCH here about what other people think of your son. You say that you think his reputation might hinder him from his private school pick? How so? You stated that you talked to all of the relevant people who simply stated that your kid is a good kid who made a bad decision. Your answer is right there. Again, these are the relevant people (the ones you described principal, etc) who said this. So, please, now drop it! I work in juvenile court in SF. A lot of smart kids sometimes run across dumb pals and let ''stupid'' take over. He made a mistake. Drop it. His friends or the parents of the other kids (who aren't perfect) are what! At least your son had the COURAGE to speak up, which speaks volumes about the type of young man that he is. Instead of worrying...praise him! And move on, so he can move on...what his little pals and their little parents think, really, is irrelevant...stop holding on to the past as it's obviously just bringing you and more important your SON down because you, parent, can't let go of it. Get stronger for your son's sake!!! Mother of 3 sons

Throwing dirt at a WALL? What community are you living in that something so incredibly low on the harmful scale would generate that amount of fuss? When I think back to what my brothers were doing at that age... Well, let's just say throwing dirt at an inanimate object that can be washed pales in comparison. Really. Were these people never kids? Have they never met a normal boy before? Your son is a normal, good kid. Some people need to lighten up. Or read Tom Sawyer, for the love of Mike. Tell these people to go to h-e-double-toothpick, they're way out of line. And read Tom Sawyer with your son. Should pick his spirits right up. raised among wolves, apparently

12.5 y-o daughter: How do I parent an almost-teenager?

April 2006

I could really use some advice - and some support - on managing my own feelings as I adjust to our daughter's adolescence. To begin with, she's a great, smart, literate kid, a terrific student, a loving big sister, nothing has gone at all wrong - thankfully - in the big picture. Now 12 1/2, she's probably right on schedule, which is to say that: she always runs late, she's become a total slob, she never helps around the house without a huge amount of cajoling, she wouldn't take a bath for a month without our insistence, she is often morose, grumpy, overhungry, bored, totally picky when it comes to food, and would rather just eat an ice cream sundae for dinner if given the option. And it wasn't so long ago that she was a sweet, happy, flexible kid! I find my very long fuse getting shorter by the day. I don't want to engage in huge power struggles with her. I want to respect her privacy. I don't want to pick her laundry up from the floor every time I enter her room. I guess I just want her back. And of course, time marches forward, and I need to march forward with it into her adolescence. Additionally, we moved about a year and half ago from the Bay Area, and she left her fabulous school at the end of fourth grade, and she has yet to make new buddies in our new home. We also moved away from a big city, and there's a lot less to do in our new setting, so she's home a tremendous amount with a lot of time on her hands. She is actively pissed off about being here, and I can't tell if it's because she really doesn't like it or it's age- related (probably a mix of the two). I keep trying to suggest activities, but she's too teen-age now, and most everything lacks appeal. So we rub up together a lot, and that is just a feature of where we live now. So, I'd really like some tips as to how to maintain my patience, save the power struggles for the things that really matter, and keep my loving cool as we plunge into the next few years. Thanks!! surviving ophelia

The best book I've found is called ''10 Best Gifts for Your Teen'' by Patt and Steve Sasso. It's a quick read with a lot of insight. The best mantra to remember ''It's not about me.'' Mother of three teens

I hesitated to reply to the questions posed by the mom of a growing adolescent, but changed my mind when I saw only one response. I'd been thinking about it all week, but assumed that more parents would weigh in. So here it goes.

I'm the mom of three girls, two in college, one still in high school. When the oldest reached puberty, my husband and I realized that because of our own histories, neither of us had any idea at all of how to be the parents of teens. It took some time to figure out, but here are the strageties we used and are still using to get through the challenging teen years. First, let me recommend any book written by Michael Riera - his writings on the subject of raising and parenting teens was invaluable to us.

We bagan with a daughter who went off the deep end in eighth grade - counseling didn't help - it just made us all angry. We came up with a number of strageties based on Michael Riera's books - sorry I can't remember the name of the book. But he was pretty popular then, I'm sure you can find one.

Basically we set some rules, changed our own behavior and attitudes and committed to being the safety net no matter what. What follows is a list of our strategies and rules.

1. We were honest with the girls, and told them that we had no idea of what good parents of teens did. But that we would make desicions based on our own thoughts, opinions and through discussion with them. So, we required that they ask permission of us, that they know all the details of who, what, when and where before asking, and committed to giving a reasoned answer. Sometimes we had to think things over, so they learned that to push us meant an automatic ''no'', but that letting us discuss and think usually meant des''would follow, although often with limits. We learned to listen to them. We also learned that many plans fell apart last minute, so it was easy to say ''yes'' and set limits.

2. Dinner together on school nights (Sunday through Thursday) was required, and dinner was scheduled at 7. Eventually they each took a night to cook a meal. We made sure to ask everyone the news of the day, and made sure to talk things through, listen to opinions, not to judge ideas, but to ask for more information. It took a looooong time for them and us to get used to talking and listening. But we stuck with it. When each one took responsibility for a nightly meal, we all agreed that it was not ok to criticize the cook. We agreed that ''Thank you for this nice meal.'' was required, especially on those nights where the new cook (or the old one - me- screwed up.)

3. We told them, and we meant it, that we would pick them up any time, any place with no questions until everyone was calm. And we did that. We've picked up our kids, and other peopli's kids in many odd places over the years. But they know that they are safe. A corollary to the rule became that if someone threw up in the car they had to clean it before noon the next day. That only happened twice. But there was more than one occasion where one of the kids scared themselves and we were able to help out. We really did wait a few days to discuss these disasters, and then took the approach of asking what happened, what they would have done differently and listening.

4. Understand that as they get older that you become the ''consultant'' more than the guide. This is key. We listened, shared ideas and opinions, pointed out problems with logic and asked questions. We also shared our own experience - as appropriate. Most kids can figure out what their mistake was, and in fact, you may find that the quality of the childs logic and processing is a good indicator of their readiness for more (or less) freedom. These discussions ranged from the big subjects like drugs, alcohol, sex, abusive parents or boy/girl friends, the nature of trust and friendship to politics, teachers, school issues or the small but critical issues of flip flops versus sandals or sweatshirst versus hoodie or pierced versus clip on earrings.

5. Chores were required. We explained that our family is a team that cannot function without the participation of all concerned. And we cleaned house together every Sunday morning for quite awhile, eventually one daughter asked if she could be responsible for the laundry only. Sure! It was easier for her schedule, and she was better at not mixing the reds with the whites than I am. We didn't insist on them cleaning their rooms, just the public areas and our bedroom (the perk of being the parent).

6. Finally, we told them that we wouldn't ask a question that we didn't want the answer to, and that lying to us would have worse consequences than the action itself, no matter how simple or serious. We haven't always liked the answers to the questions we asked. But having committed to listen and discuss later, there have been few blow ups. And we committed to punishing the lie, not the mistaken action itself. Doesn't mean that there weren't consequences, but that the most serious consequences came for the lie.

7. Another small but critical item. When daughter number 1 fell apart I made sure to go into her room every night for just a few minutes of private time. It began as mundane ''how's it going?'' and eventually became time for discussion. Yes she resented it and thought I was wierd, but those discussions became the breakthrough when she confessed to drug and alcohol use and asked for help. Ever since then I have spent a few moments with each child on their own before going to sleep. THose 5 minutes have become critical in my relationship with the other two girls - they have become the forum for some very personal discussions as well as some downright silliness on our part.

8. Looking this over, it seems like i'm saying that this was easy. It was not. We were lucky. Although most kids get through adolescence without too much trauma, some do not and it isn't easy to predict who will or won't be harmed, or how serious the damage will be. So keep your eyes and ears open, stay involved and stay aware. Some of the most involved parents still ended up with children in serious trouble. What saved them was that they were involved.

Take my opinion and ideas for what they are worth. Things weren't always smooth or simple, the girls did lie to us and misinform us, we did have to intervene and set limits, but we always tried to reason things through, to have reasons for our decisions and to respect their growing intelligence and maturity. And sometimes we just had to say ''because I'm not comfortable, and can't think of a reason, so no.'' The two older ones tell us that we did a good job and were good parents. They call us and talk to us daily even now, so I feel like in our family at least our strategies worked.

Take this for what it's worth, use what you can, ignore the rest, adjust what doesn't feel right. Have faith in your daughter.

One last thing, never let a day go by without telling her that you love her and complementing her on a good choice, an accomplilshment, a mature decision. Let her know you care. Carolyn

To Carolyn who responded to ''Adapting to Daughter's Adolescence''! As a parent of two boys, I just wanted to say ''thank you'' for taking the time to respond and for your response. YES! you made it sound easy, but we all know it wasn't. I appreciate soooo much your insight and wisdom. I always take those gold nuggets & use them for raising my children. I'm going through those tough ''teenage'' years with my boys--and boy oh boy! So from one mom to another , Warm regards, Renee

There's very little more to add to Carolyn's message -- it's awesome!

The only thing I can think of to tell you is to talk about responsibility. If they went to school, did their chores, let you know where they were, came home on time, etc. I would let them know that I was giving them permission to do XXX because they had shown that they were being responsible and using good judgement. Demonstrating more responsibility leads to more privileges. Coming out the other end

The suggestions from the mom with 3 daughters are great. We have 2 boys in college and one daughter graduating from high school. We got our kids into sports in elementary school and when they got to high school the sports were every day after school. This tires them out and keeps them out of trouble. Sports also boosts their self esteem and they want to take care of their bodies better.

Our boys were a lot easier than our daughter. Girls mature earlier and they can be more interested in having boyfriends in high school than boys. Nevertheless, we were there to pick our our daughter at any time and we did rescue her from a situation she felt too young to take part of. Our boys are in frequent contact with us now and often call to run things by us, something they did not want to do in high school. If you get through the tough times your relationship with your kids can improve when they are a little older. Judy 

12-year-old son is becoming more passive, less active

March 1999

I've been agonizing for the last couple of days thinking that I am a bit paranoid about the whole thing, but I think it is time to get some feedback on this issue.

My son, 12 years old & 7th grade, becoming more passive than active than before, and I don't now how to work on this problem. He appears to be less confident than before, I think it may be part of growing up, but I cannot help worrying about him. His teachers tells me that my son is very bright, yet he does not seem to be mature enough to show more enthusiastic in the classroom (not taking charge). I often tend to keep eyes on his doing homework and so on... to make sure he does not watch T.V. or listen to radio unless he gets all his work done. I wonder I should let him fail by not getting on his case even though I know it is crucial time (7th & 8th grade) for his academic journey.

In an effort to find reasons for these recent changes in him, I changed his school when my son was 6th grade to this new school, academically more challenged and different social structure, and he seems to be doing fine after a year of struggling to fit into this new environment. There is no major crises but, this passiveness in him seems to grow slowly more as days go by. I want him to grow confident and take charge in his life, yet I feel closed in side box without knowing what to do. Would anyone have any good suggestions & books that you can refer me to? Thank you so much !

To the woman with the Passive 12 year old son. I have been having a similar experience with my 12 year old son. In an attempt to understand why he is so passive as well as not doing well in school I picked up this book on boys called The Wonder of Boys by Michael Gurian 1996. It has helped me a lot in understanding where he is coming from, and given me some tools and some kind of direction to go in when talking with him. This book is not just about puberty, but it does have a good section on it. My plan is to read this and then move on a book just about puberty. Good luck

Regarding the 7th grader who is too passive: I would be VERY concerned if I were you. It's at this age that our kids are coming out from under our wings and trying things on their own. If he fails now, he may stop trying to succeed. It sounds like your son isn't faring so well. Is he being taunted at school (such a vicious age), is it a group bothering him? He needs very real tools ( not theory) to know how to respond to taunts and to various situations at school. Actually practice and role play different scenarios. Hopefully your son can express what might be bothering him. Also, get him involved in things that he is interested in and excels at. Praise him whenever it is deserved. What is he like at home, is his school behevior different from his home behavior? Talk with his teachers - not once, but regularly. New to my family is wrestling. It has been absolutely fantastic as my son (also 12 and in 7thgrade) is on a team and thus identifies with a large group of kids, but it also forces him to go one on one against another. It's been excellent for him and his self confidence. Not to mention the muscles that are developing! Is your son on a sports team, or in any club? I recommend it. There's also the obvious (and irritating) - kids want to fit in - are you helping him to fit in? Yes, I'm all for not having kids succumb to fashion and fads and peer pressure, but kids this age NEED to feel good about themselves - does he have the Adidas, the Nikes or whatever to let him feel like he's cool? Does he have a stylish haircut? Kids in school look for the littlest thing for a chance to pick on another. Does he have a close friend to confide in and to bolster each other? If not, work on finding new friends. Smoking pot causes apathy, have you thought along those lines? And no, I wouldn't let him fail in school, maintain a standard for him to keep up. This isn't the age for him to fail. Sounds like he needs you more than ever, so be there for him, even if it means dragging him though his homework and studies. In all, as they say success breeds success, so, yes, you need to help him now.

Regarding the passive 12-year old: When my son was 12 (and in the sixth grade - he has a late birthday) - he went through a phase where he suddenly stopped trying in school - his grades, which had been excellent, plummeted. He got the first C grades of his life. We were shocked. He also is very bright. We got on his case immediately and had a conference with his teacher, having him attend also. It turned out that he had decided he was bored with school and was too smart to have to work hard...he had decided that his brains would serve him well when it mattered (i.e., high school and college) and until then, he could cruise. He went so far one day as to ostentatiously read the newspaper in class! We were alarmed that it could get so far and that we wouldn't learn about it until his mid-term grades came in. We and the teacher made it very clear to him in the conference that this was an unacceptable situation - and he did start to behave again. It all boiled down to an attitude problem, brought on probably by hormones and his developmental stage. It took our joint intervention with the teacher to get his attention, although his teacher never let him get away with anything like the newspaper reading. He attends a private school which has multiple levels of instruction in each grade, geared to ability, so we know from that and the C grades that the problem was not that he was bored by easy schoolwork. I thought then and still do that it was a very odd, sudden and abberational change on his part and am thankful that a good talking-to was all that was required.

Perhaps the passive 12-year old is going through the same thing. I would recommend a serious joint discussion with the teacher and the child. Perhaps seeing low grades on a report card, if that has not happened yet, will help get his attention...letting him fail rather than assuming responsibility for his getting his work done might not be a bad thing at this grade level - one time. He should certainly not need a parent to make sure he does his homework at this age. If a discussion with the teacher and child does not get to the root of the problem, I would recommend talking to the pediatrician next. It could be, though I hope not, that the child is depressed. It's not so much junior high grades that matter, as how well the child is learning in junior high. Sometimes lower grades reflect not turning in homework, or one very bad test score, rather than that the child is not grasping the material - I would ask the teacher specifically about this.

If overall performance has slipped - tests and homework generally reflecting a lack of effort and understanding - then the situation could affect high school achievement, as what he is learning now does form the basis for high school progress, especially if he eventually might be eligible for advanced placement classes.

Try joining the Boy Scouts. The entire program is aimed at building character and self-confidence that comes from being self-reliant. (but don't tell him that - It's just fun and camping and neat stuff!) Do it soon, because this is the season when new scouts are joining and signing up for summer camp.

I've been involved with the program for many years and feel it makes a big difference in the lives of the boys. Call the scout office to get contact information for troops in your area. Don't just join the closest one. Go to some meetings at several. Check them out And let your son pick his favorite troop.

Roger D.
San Francisco Bay Area Council