One of the difficulties involved in parenting is knowing what you should expect from your children at various ages and stages of development. Not only do you need to know when a child should be walking or crawling, brushing his teeth, or feeding himself, you should also be aware of when to expect certain character qualities to be developed in your children.

The age of 12 is a key time in everybody’s life, and it is interesting to note that God has given us a glimpse in His Word into what a 12-year-old is supposed to be and the qualities he should have developed.

I don’t think any of us would disagree with the fact that a 12-year-old can be either a great blessing or a great burden—a great delight or a disaster waiting to happen. The age of 12 is a critical, turning-point age. It is an age at which wise parents should be closely examining the product of their first several years of parenting work.

In Luke 2, we’re given the only detailed look in the Bible at the period of Jesus’ life from His babyhood until He begins his public ministry at about the age of 30. Interestingly, Jesus was 12 years of age at this point. From this passage, I believe we can glean some key principles about the qualities we should be trying to develop in our children before they reach the critical age of 12.

In 1 Peter 2:21 we are told that Jesus is our example: that we “should follow his steps.” Jesus is the example for 12-year-olds so that, at age 12, they can examine their lives and make sure before they hit their teen years that they are following in the steps of Jesus.

The thinking of the world is totally opposite of what our thinking should be in this area. The world thinks that by the time a young person reaches the teen years, peer dependence, disrespect, rebellion, and many other negative characteristics are simply unavoidable facts of life. However, this does not have to be the case, and by looking at Jesus at age 12, we can determine what we should be expecting from our young people.

So, what are clear, proper goals for every 12-year-old?

A Mature Sense of Responsibility, Purpose, and Destiny

One of the biggest differences between an immature child and a mature youth is a sense of responsibility.

In Luke 2:41-46, we read how Joseph and Mary went up to Jerusalem each year for Passover. You remember that, when Jesus was 12, He was left behind when the rest of the family left, and Joseph and Mary didn’t know it.

“But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.” (Luke 2:44-46)

By age 12, Jesus was able to take care of Himself for several days alone. Joseph and Mary traveled a day’s journey before they thought to look for Jesus. Then they had to travel a day’s journey to get back to Jerusalem. Then it took them three days to find their son.

For five days Jesus had to take care of Himself. He had to eat. He had to sleep. He had to bathe. He had to dress Himself. He had to determine what He was going to do. For five days, Jesus took full responsibility for Himself.

By age 12, a child should know what to do and what not to do, where to go and not to go, whom to be with and not to be with—without being told.

Without needing to be told, he should keep his room clean and neat. He should do chores without being reminded.

From 12 on, a girl should know what is right and wrong to wear, and there should be no arguments about it. What happens far too often in our day is that a girl gets to be around 10, 11, or 12, and suddenly she wants to look like her friends and the rest of the world. The parents wrestle with her throughout her teenage years, trying to keep her modest and proper as a young lady.