Confused About Your Preteen? 5 Common Questions, Answered

Best topics to discuss with your child's pediatrician
Confused About Your Preteen? 5 Common Questions, Answered

Do you wish your preteen came with an owner’s manual? These years can be a confusing time for both children and their parents.

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Your elementary school kid who always depended a lot on you begins transitioning to a sometimes moody and willful adolescent who faces more demanding academics and new social situations.

The changes are sometimes slow or they also can be sudden. You likely will have questions about your child’s health along the way. Pediatrician Veronica Issac, MD, answers the five questions that parents most often ask during their early adolescent child’s annual exam.

Q: What vaccines does my child need at this age? 

A: According to the child vaccine schedule, 11-to-13-year-olds should receive vaccines for the following:

  • HPV
  • Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis)
  • meningitis

Not only are these shots important to protect your child’s health, but they’re also mandatory for continued enrollment in 7th grade in many areas, Dr. Issac says.

Q: Should I be concerned about social anxieties? 

A: Transitioning to middle school is tough for many kids. Talk to your child about anything that concerns them, whether it’s making new friends, bullying, or other social issues . If you’re uncomfortable with these topics or want to bring in another perspective, you can ask your pediatrician to address it.

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Also, watch for signs of behavioral health problems: worsening academic performance, not wanting to go to school, sleeping too much or too little, or a change in appetite. These changes are somewhat normal during puberty, but if they’re extreme, let your pediatrician know, Dr. Issac says.

Q: What physical changes can I expect in my child? 

A: At this age, development between girls and boys is often vastly different. Girls most often hit their growth spurt between ages 11 and 13. Breast development will begin, and they will likely get their first period. Tell your pediatrician if your daughter doesn’t start having her period by age 15.

A boy is slower to develop. However, you can expect some voice-cracking as his voice begins to change. Reassure your son that this is normal.

Q: What are my child’s sleep and nutritional needs? 

A: Although every child is different, pediatricians suggest that kids this age get between 9 and 11 hours of sleep nightly. That amount allows for the best mental and physical development.

In addition, watch what your child eats at this age, Dr. Issac says. They sometimes begin gravitating toward more junk food, so be sure you keep fresh fruits and vegetables in their diets.

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Q: What changes should I expect in my child’s annual exam?

A: Until now, you’ve been included in the physical part of your child’s annual check-up. That begins to change at this age, as pediatricians start giving kids the choice to have parents leave the room.

This privacy gives children the chance to discuss any issues with the doctor they might not feel comfortable discussing with a parent. But, don’t worry, if any issues impact your child’s safety, your pediatrician will keep you in the loop, Dr. Issac says.

For girls, pediatricians begin to monitor breast development more closely, regularly examining breast tissue. For boys, they start the discussion about testicular growth and the risk of testicular cancer.

A final takeaway message from the doctor

Most importantly, Dr. Issac says, remember that your child will reach these different development milestones at any point during this age frame, and they’re all normal.

Your pediatrician is there to help you understand these changes in your child, as well as to help you plan for any conversations you might find difficult.

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