Information about nutrition, exercise, sleep and more to help both boys and girls as they begin puberty.
Children around ages 10-12 years old are at the beginning of their adolescent years. During this time, parents and children will start noticing different changes happening to the child’s body and emotions. These changes are all part of puberty. Puberty happens in five stages and takes about five years to finish for both girls and boys.
Below you’ll find information helpful for both boys and girls, on topics like nutrition, exercise, sleep and more. You can also find more information especially for boys or girls.
Eating a well-balanced diet helps children grow, stay healthy, and do well in school. Each meal throughout the day should include a variety of foods and food groups such as vegetables and fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, lean proteins, and healthy fats. It’s important to help kids limit salt, avoid foods with added sugar (including what they drink), and avoid unhealthy saturated and trans-fats. You can use guides like MyPlate to help plan healthy meals.
Daily servings of each food group include:
Vegetables: 3 cups per day. Choose different vegetables with varying colors to make sure kids are getting enough vitamins and minerals to power through their day. If your child isn’t a veggie fan, have him or her try vegetables raw, roasted, boiled, steamed or baked to try something new.
Fruits: 2 cups per day. Just like with vegetables, you want to help your child choose fruits that are different colors to make sure he or she is getting a variety of vitamins and minerals throughout the day. If your child is eating a whole fruit, like an apple or peach, it should be about the size of a baseball, which is considered one serving or 1 cup.
Whole grains: 5-6 servings per day. Whole grains include fiber, which keeps our digestive tract moving and keeps us fuller longer. A slice of whole grain bread or half of a bun, one tortilla or a half of a cup of rice is considered one serving.
Dairy: 3 cups per day. Dairy helps build strong bones, but help your child choose fat-free or low-fat dairy products like milk, yogurt or cheese.
Protein: 5 ounces per day. Protein helps build strong muscles and plays an important part in making the proteins and hormones that your child’s body needs to stay healthy. Common lean protein from animals includes poultry (chicken or turkey), eggs, beef, pork and fish. Certain plants and grains are also great sources of protein like tofu, tempeh, beans and legumes, and quinoa. Meat cut into the size of a deck of cards, one egg or a quarter cup of beans is considered one serving or 1 ounce.
Here are some helpful tips to make sure children are getting well-balanced meals:
- Eat at least three food groups during breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Always have a vegetable or a fruit with every meal or snack. This makes getting the daily servings easier.
- When making a snack, choose a vegetable or a fruit plus a protein. For example, kids can eat an apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter or try carrot sticks and hummus.
- Choose the correct portions.
Exercise or physical activity helps build strong muscles and bones, helps children have better coordination, and can help them have positive self-esteem. Pre-teens and teens need at least one hour of physical activity every day. They can choose to exercise for 10-15 minutes at a time throughout the day to add up to one hour total.
The amount of effort your child puts into exercise is also important to their health. Most of the time they spend moving should be moderate to vigorous effort, meaning that after they exercise, they should feel:
- Out of breath. Saying more than a few words at a time should be difficult.
- Fast heartbeat. Our hearts beat faster when we exercise to bring blood carrying oxygen to our muscles for energy.
- Sweaty. Our body sweats to cool off when we build heat internally through exercise or when we’re outside in the sun.
Allow your child to choose activities that sound fun to them. Encourage them to choose activities that build muscle and bone strength at least three days per week. Examples of these activities include weightlifting, climbing, push-ups, squats, sit-ups and pull-ups.
On the other days, help them pick aerobic activities that speed up their heart rate like running, jumping rope, swimming or biking. The most important thing is that they choose activities that they enjoy. Breaking a sweat is always more fun when you have a friend or family member to enjoy it with. Encourage them to ask a friend or sibling to join them.
Sleep plays a very important part of pre-teen and teenager growth and development. While we sleep, our bodies are building, repairing and recharging for the following day’s activities.
Most adolescents need between 9 and 12 hours of sleep every night. When your child’s body doesn’t get enough sleep, you and they may notice they feel tired, cranky and have a hard time focusing at school. Teens and pre-teens who do not get enough sleep may have problems with their growth and may get sick more often than others their age.
If your child has a hard time falling asleep at night, help them try these tips:
- Have the same bedtime every night, even on the weekends. Have a bedtime routine, like brushing their teeth and reading, to help calm them down before bed.
- Have them remove electronic devices, like TVs, cell phones, tablets and computers, from their room. The light that is given off by these devices makes it harder to fall and stay asleep. Be sure to power down at least 30 minutes before bed.
- Use their bedroom only for sleeping so their body knows when they get into bed it is time to rest.
- Do not exercise right before bed. Getting one hour of exercise each day is important, but this should be done earlier in the day to help their body rest at night.
- Do not eat or drink anything with caffeine during dinner or before bed.
Acne is a normal part of puberty and occurs when sweat glands and skin pores get blocked with dirt and oil. This leads to small red bumps or pimples. One of the most obvious places for pimples to appear is on the face, but acne can appear anywhere. Some other common places include the back, chest, neck and shoulders.
Here are some do’s and don’ts to help your child keep their skin healthy:
- Encourage them to wash their face twice a day (once in the morning and once at night).
- Drink plenty of water.
- Get plenty of sleep and exercise.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Help them remember to not pick at their pimples. This can cause scarring and may spread bacteria or create an infection.
- Don’t scrub their skin too hard. This may irritate the skin or cause more acne.
If your child’s acne worsens or if it affects their self-esteem, talk with your child’s doctor or a dermatologist. There are lots of medications that can be used to treat acne. Some medications can be found at your local pharmacy and other medications might require a prescription.
Remind your child that everyone has unique and different skin so their acne treatment might be different from their friends. Acne affects each of us differently, so remind them to try not to compare themselves to anyone else.
As children’s hormones change in the next few years, they may notice that their thoughts also start to change, and may even find that their feelings and thoughts can change at a moment’s notice. This is normal because of the changes happening in their body – the challenge is that these thoughts may affect how they think about themselves.
Your child may begin to sometimes hear a little voice in his or her head that says, "You are not good enough." This is called negative self-talk and it can start to affect self-esteem, or how the child thinks about him or herself.
Some tips you can share with your child to help deal with negative self-talk include:
- Remind them that they are unique and important.
- Help them practice replacing negative thoughts with positive ones.
- Instead of thinking, "I can't do that," encourage them to replace that thought with, "I can't do that YET."
- Encourage them to speak with a trusted adult and share these feelings.
- Remind your child that it’s normal to feel a lot of emotions in the next few years as the body goes through puberty. It might be helpful to “name” their feelings. For example, if the child feels angry, he or she can say, “I feel angry because…” This can help the child understand his or her own feelings and why those feelings occur. Encourage the child to talk about feelings with a trusted adult, like a parent or a teacher.
Relationships with Friends and Family
Just as it is important for your child to develop a strong sense of self, he or she may also notice changes in relationships with friends and family. It is important to remind your child that they get to decide who their friends are based on how those friends make the child feel. If your child is surrounded by people who create insecurity or bad feelings, he or she has the power to walk away. Encourage your child to talk to a trusted adult if a relationship feels unsafe.
Social Media Safety
Using social media can be fun and might be a good way for your child to connect with friends, family members or even find out about new things happening in the community. Remind your child that social media should be used in a positive way and not used to hurt other people.
Everything posted on social media is public and permanent. Before your child posts something, encourage him or her to consider the impact of family members or a teacher seeing it. Knowing that everything they post can be seen by the whole world should help your child remember to take a moment before posting online and think about any consequences.
Thinking about the Future
As your child enters adolescence and begins thinking about the future, remind him or her that it is perfectly fine to have not chosen a career path – many adults are still figuring it out, too.
Here are few tips to share with your child about planning for the future:
Focus on living a healthy life now
Encourage your child to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables with their meals and drink water instead of soda or juice. They should try to get 9-10 hours of sleep each night and find ways to keep their body active by doing exercises that they enjoy. Starting these healthy habits now will help them continue them as they grow.
Keep track of things that make you happy or that you find interesting
Does your child really like learning about history? Or making things with their hands? Or helping other people? If they find things that interest them, encourage them to try to do them often, and to not be scared to try new things or challenge themselves.
Find ways to deal with fear or stress
Who does your child talk to when they are scared or need help? Do they have someone they trust to give them good advice? This may be a sibling, an aunt or uncle, a coach or a teacher. Remind your child that although it is nice to have friends to talk to, they should also think about who an adult is in their life who can support and guide you.
More information for boys or girls
Every young person’s experience with puberty is different, and puberty affects boys and girls in different ways. Find more information especially for boys or girls on topics like physical changes, hygiene and emotional changes.
More for boys
More for girls
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The information here is not intended to be nor should be used as a substitute for medical evaluation or treatment by a health care professional. This publication is for information purposes only and the reader assumes all associated risks.
Content expert: Jasmine Reese, M.D., M.P.H.