How to Talk with Pre-teens

Talking with pre-teens (9 to 12 Years)

For many, the pre-teen years mean puberty. Remember how terrifying that was!? It’s crucial to help pre-teens understand their growing and changing bodies by talking with them about what changes to expect and how to deal with them.


Puberty can be especially challenging for girls as the changes are often much more noticeable. The rate at which development occurs can vary greatly from person to person, making puberty that much more difficult to navigate. For example, a pre-teen may become concerned when her friends develop breasts or start their period and she hasn’t. Let her know that this is not abnormal and that our bodies grow and change at different rates.

It is crucial that we help pre-teens understand the development going on with the opposite sex at this age. Boys should understand the menstrual cycle and developmental growth of girls and vice versa. This will help normalize development and help build confidence in knowing that all of their peers are going through these changes, regardless of gender. They will likely learn about many of these topics in school. Ask them what they learned and if they have any questions. Sometimes it’s hard for kids to ask questions regarding sex and sexual development in front of their peers.

Romantic feelings

Romantic crushes or feelings can often begin to develop at this age. It’s important to set expectations around dating, marriage and sexual relationships now, as pre-teens may begin to enter into romantic relationships. Talk it over with your spouse or partner ahead of time so that everyone shares the same expectations for the discussion.

Talk to pre-teens about sex. They may not want to hear it – and you may not want to say it! – but it’s incredibly important information to share. Be honest about consensual sex being a pleasurable experience but let them know that it comes with very serious responsibilities. Just like asking permission before giving or receiving any touch, talk with them about consent when it comes to more intimate interactions. Most importantly, answer their questions about sex and sexual relationships and encourage them to come to you with questions or concerns in the future.


Pre-teen years are a great time to play the “what if” game with kids. Throw different scenarios at them to see how they respond and then have conversations about those responses in a constructive, non-judgmental way. Include other, more lighthearted scenarios so it does not feel as if it is a “test.” Peer pressure should certainly be a topic of conversion. They already know their right to say “no” to any unwanted touch; let them know that the same is true for unwanted activity. Here are some “what if” scenarios for getting the conversation started:

  • “What if someone close to you forcefully grabbed or groped you in a sexual way?”
  • “What if your boyfriend threatened to break up with you because you didn’t want to have sex?”
  •  “What if one of your close friends had an intimate relationship with someone they shouldn’t?”

More Tips: Talking with Teens

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