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Differences in Preteens & Teens

By Scott Thompson ; Updated June 13, 2017

Preteens sometimes try to imitate the behaviors and fashion choices of older kids, but the preteen stage is distinct in several ways from the teen stage. Preteens think, feel, look and behave differently from teenagers. Even their brains are different. The years between age 10 and age 19 are years of rapid developmental change.

Physical Differences

Kids enter puberty at different ages, but some begin as early as age 10. According to the U.S. Office of Population Affairs guide to the stages of adolescence, a preteen going through puberty experiences constant physical and hormonal change, and while most teenagers keep growing into their early 20s, it's a slower process after puberty. The biggest physical difference between preteens and teens is that most preteens are in a process of rapid transition.

Emotional Differences

Preteens are not only going through a physical transition between childhood and young adulthood, but an emotional transition as well. That's why a preteen can seem surprisingly mature in one circumstance and surprisingly childlike in another. Preteens are also just figuring out that their parents can have weaknesses and character flaws and that they sometimes make mistakes. While some of these issues do continue after age 13, teenagers and particularly older teenagers are typically more emotionally settled than preteens.

Behavioral Differences

Marketers have often treated the preteen and teen markets as being a single demographic for practical purposes, but a 2006 study by eMarketer suggests this might be a mistake. The study found that preteens were more interested in playing games on the Internet while teens were more interested in social networking. As preteens go through puberty and enter adolescence, they tend to become more interested in socializing and less in game playing.

Brain Development Differences

The single biggest difference between teens and preteens is in the area of brain development. According to an article in "Frontline" based on the work of Dr. Jay Giedd at the National Institute of Mental Health, the brain goes through a stage of rapid growth in the frontal cortex shortly before puberty. New brain cells are produced and new pathways are created in the brain. After puberty, the brain goes through another process in which some neural pathways are pruned back. In preteens, the brain is rapidly growing but in teenagers the brain is consolidating and becoming more efficient at what it does. Parents who encourage good habits in preteens can help shape the way their brains develop as teenagers.

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