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How a Child’s Brain Changes Ages 11 to 12

Posted May 1, 2013

This is Part 4 of my series of articles on “How a Child’s Brain Changes by Age”.

For Part 1, ages 5 and 6 years old, go here.
For Part 2, ages 7 and 8 years old, go here.
For Part 3, ages 9 and 10 years old, go here.

As I wrote in previous posts, I came across an excellent article in Parenting Magazine, “Mind Reader – Your Child’s Blossoming Brain, Age by Age: a Road Map of the Awesome (and Aggravating) Changes” by Holly Pevzner (February 2013).  I had not ever read such a great breakdown of the changes children go through as they get older.  Children for the most part go through the same brain evolution, albeit at their own pace.

Let’s talk about what’s going on with your child’s brain at ages 11 and 12.

11 Years Old “The Lawyer”
Your child has reached the ripe old age of 11, and he’s really not a baby anymore.  You can see that he now is starting to grasp the idea of using logic to express himself.  He begins to debate with more skill and sense than ever before.  

My own daughter, who is almost 9, already likes to debate everything and seems to have an answer for everything I say or ask her to do.  Her reasoning, though, is still shaky.  At 9, she cannot quite yet argue with succinct logic that older kids can.  When she nears 11 years of age, though, yikes!  

11 year olds are mini lawyers
11 year olds become miniature lawyers

An eleven year old’s brain begins to strengthen its judgment and decision-making capabilities, getting ready for a future of thoughtful pondering.  This is a growth spurt in the cognitive sense.  Kids at this age can come up with ideas that they haven’t experienced first-hand themselves – they can see things from different perspectives.  Abstract thinking is now used to communicate.

How can you encourage this growth?  Start to play what-if scenarios with your child.  According to developmental physician Adiaha I.A. Spinks-Franklin, M.D. (co-chair of the Advocacy Committee of the Society of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Texas Children’s Hospital), this is a great time to use what-ifs to not only strengthen logic skills, but also to work in what-ifs about bullying.

“What if you saw a little kid being bullied by a bigger kid at school? What would you do and why?”
“What if your friends were teasing someone and ganging up on her?  What would you do and why?”

Also support the new reasoning abilities by creating a good debate about something.  What’s the best ice cream flavor and why?  And if they want a new toy or gadget or the latest fashion accessory, ask them to explain to you the reasons why they should get it and why they need it.  Perhaps ask “What if you don’t get it?”

Fun fact: Eleven is often when children start to wonder about abstract things like morality and religious beliefs.

12 Years Old “The Risk Taker”
So, according to the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, this is the age when the part of the brain that controls how rewards, social feedback, and emotions are processed becomes hyper sensitive.  12 years old…right around the time puberty hits.  This is when they get a surge of independence.
Twelve year olds become more willing to take risk and go outside the proverbial box in order to get the emotional and/or social feedback reward.  The danger here is that at twelve, kids still don’t understand fully the long-term effects and dangers that may be involved.  They understand the immediate consequences, like if they don’t shut the window like Mom asked she will be mad, but they don’t quite think ahead of the rainstorm that’s coming that will soak the living room floor if the window stays open.  

Or, if they let their little brother jump into his bean bag chair from the top of the stairs after Mom and Dad have told them never to allow this, they get that it will make their parents unhappy.  They may not fully imagine that little bro may really injure himself.

Worse scenarios can occur of course, so at this age, parents should keep drilling into their kids’ skulls all the lessons they should learn.  For example, don’t forget to check that the stove top is completely shut off or the house will catch fire and blow up.  They will just care that you would yell at them for not shutting the stove top off, they need to be reminded that there are worse consequences than you getting upset.

12 year olds take more risk, but don't get full consequences
12 year olds take more risks, but don't quite grasp long-term consequences

Fun fact:  A child who gets 8 to 10 hours of sleep develops better decision-making abilities.

Kids need 8 - 10 hours of sleep for better decision-making

So that concludes my series on how young brains evolve.  I hope this was both interesting and helpful.  Perhaps you can now better understand and interpret some of the wacky things your kids start to do.  And perhaps it will give you more patience with them knowing that their brains are making them do it!

Please share how your kids developed, from 5 to 12 years.  I’d love to hear your personal stories and experiences!

Yours truly, Jade

Jade is the founder and CEO of Ahh! Products. Find her on

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