Should I Be Worried? Typical Behavior for Children Ages 10–12
At Defend Innocence we’re all about encouraging and empowering parents to talk to their children about healthy sexuality. As you watch for signs of sexual abuse, however, you might pause when you’re not sure if something your child is doing is typical for their age. This can be especially true for “tweens” when hormones are ramping up, puberty is coming (or already here), and awkwardness is at an all-time high. Below are a few things that are common for your tween and usually no cause for alarm.
Begin to show signs of sexual attraction and desire to date or hang out with peers more.
This is appropriate for this age, as long as the person they have a crush on is of similar age to them. If they are showing interest in a teacher or someone significantly older than them, you’ll want to address it. It’s normal to fantasize about a celebrity or someone equally unattainable, as tweens decide on traits they want in their ideal partner.
Puberty begins or continues.
Body changes can result in anxiety, confusion, or low self-worth. Take time to reassure them that what they’re going through is normal, that they are worthwhile the way they are, and that you love them and support them. They may be more vulnerable to bullying as their bodies change as well and less willing to talk about it unless you make sure to keep the lines of communication open.
May begin kissing, showing affection, or flirting.
Depending on the age and maturity of your child, they might get their first kiss in this time frame. They might show affection in more physical ways, and they might flirt with their peers. These behaviors are standard unless they are forceful about it or act in a manner that is more common among adults.
Ask questions about sex and seek out information.
This is the age where most children see their first sexually explicit images online. In some cases, it’s accidental while in other cases they are trying to find answers to their questions. You want to make sure that YOU are the person they can come to with questions.
Desire more privacy.
Wanting to be alone more often is typical at this age. Locking doors so they can have some privacy is also normal. Allow them to have this time and space, as long as you don’t feel that they are shutting themselves away from others.
May experiment with masturbation.
Some children this age are curious about their bodies and will want to explore them. Others will have no interest in doing this. Both are typical for this age. You may want to talk to your child about rules and values surrounding this. Medically speaking, masturbating is only problematic if it becomes compulsive, interferes with academics and their social life, or if they do it in front of others.
May show interest in media with sexual themes.
They may seek out music, movies, or TV shows that are more sexually explicit than the things they had previously watched. Part of this is curiosity, and part may be from a desire to be more grown-up. It’s important to address your values in navigating sexually explicit media to help them understand what they are seeing and make decisions about what they consume.
As you spend time with your tween, listen to your intuition. If something feels wrong, it probably is. Keep an open relationship with your child, seek out the information you need, and act when you feel that you need to. Your knowledge and instincts are your best ally in knowing how to help your child.
- Haffner, D. (2008). From Diapers to Dating: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children. New York: Newmarket Press.
- Wurtele, S.K., & Kenny, M.C. (2011). Normative Sexuality Development in Childhood: Implications for developmental guidance and prevention of childhood sexual abuse. Counseling and Human Development, 43(9), 1-24.