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The Pre-Teen Years Essay

"Tween" redirects here. For other uses, see Tween (disambiguation).

"Tweenie" redirects here. For the TV show, see Tweenies. For the domestic worker, see Between maid.

Preadolescence, also known as pre-teen or tween, is a stage of human development following early childhood and preceding adolescence.[1] It commonly ends with the beginning of puberty,[2] but may also be defined as ending with the start of the teenage years.[3] For example, dictionary definitions generally designate it as 10–13 years.[4] Preadolescence can bring its own challenges and anxieties.

Prepubescence, puberty and range

See also: Tanner scale

Being prepubescent is not the same thing as being preadolescent. Instead, prepubescent (and sometimes child) is a term for boys and girls who have not developed secondary sex characteristics,[5] while preadolescent is generally defined as those ranging from age 10 to 13 years.[4][6] Preadolescence may also be defined as the period from 9 to 14 years.[7][8]

The point at which a child becomes an adolescent is defined by the onset of puberty or the beginning of the teenage stage.[2][3][5] Adolescence is also viewed as ending with the teenage stage.[3] However, in some individuals (particularly females), puberty begins in the preadolescence years.[9][10] Studies indicate that the onset of puberty has been one year earlier with each generation since the 1950s.[11]

One can also distinguish middle childhood and preadolescence[7] – middle childhood from approximately 5–8 years, as opposed to the time children are generally considered to reach preadolescence.[8] There is no exact agreement as to when preadolescence starts and ends, and research by Gesell et al. suggests that "chronological by no means identical with developmental time" – the duration of the "inner" stages of growth' – or with physiological time.[12]

While known as preadolescent in psychology, the terms preteen, preteenager or tween are common in everyday use. A preteen or preteenager[1] is a person 12 and under.[13] Generally, the term is restricted to those close to reaching age 12,[1] especially age 11.[14]Tween is an American neologism and marketing term[15] for preteen, which is a blend of between and teen.[13][14] People within this age range are variously described as tweens, preadolescents[contradictory], tweenies, preteens, pubescents, junior highers[16] or tweenagers.[17][18]

The term tween was previously used in J. R. R. Tolkien's 1954 novel The Lord of the Rings to refer to hobbits in their twenties: "tweens as hobbits called the irresponsible twenties between childhood and the coming of age at thirty-three."[19] In this context, the word is really either a shortened version of between or a portmanteau of teen and twenty, and in either case has no connection to teens, preteens or the American marketing niche.

Psychological development

Main article: Developmental psychology

Of the 'two major socializing agents in children's lives: the family environment...and formal educational institutions,'[20] it is 'the family in its function a primary socializer of the child'[21] that predominates in the first five years of life: middle childhood by contrast is characterized by 'a child's readiness for school...being self-assured and interested; knowing what kind of behavior is expected...being able to wait, to follow directions, and getting along with other children.'[22]

Preadolescent children in fact have a different view of the world from younger children in many significant ways. Typically, theirs is a more realistic view of life than the intense, fantasy-oriented world of earliest childhood. Preadolescents have more mature, sensible, realistic thoughts and actions: 'the most "sensible" stage of development...the child is a much less emotional being now.'[23] They will often have developed a sense of ' intentionality. The wish and capacity to have an impact, and to act upon that with persistence';[24] and will have a more developed sense of looking into the future and seeing effects of their actions (as opposed to early childhood where children often do not worry about their future). This can include more realistic job expectations ("I want to be an engineer when I grow up", as opposed to "I want to be a wizard"). Middle children generally show more investment 'in control over external reality through the acquisition of knowledge and competence':[25] where they do have worries, these may be more a fear of kidnappings, rapes, and scary media events, as opposed to fantasy things (e.g., witches, monsters, ghosts).

Preadolescents may well view human relationships differently (e.g. they may notice the flawed, human side of authority figures). Alongside that, they may begin to develop a sense of self-identity, and to have increased feelings of independence: 'may feel an individual, no longer "just one of the family."'[26] A different view on morality can emerge; and the middle child will also show more cooperativeness. The ability to balance one's own needs with those of others in group activities'.[27] Many preadolescents will often start to question their home life and surroundings around this time and they may also start to form opinions that may differ from their upbringing in regards to issues such as politics, religion, sexuality, and gender roles.

Greater responsibility within the family can also appear, as middle children become responsible for younger siblings and relatives, as with babysitting; while preadolescents may start caring about what they look like and what they are wearing.

Middle children often begin to experience infatuation, limerence, puppy love, or love itself, though arguably at least with 'girls carrying out all the romantic interest....preadolescent girls' romantic pursuits often seem to be more aggressive than affectionate.'[28]

Preadolescents may still suffer tantrums at the age of 13, sometimes leading to rash decisions regarding risky actions. Such decisions may in rare cases result in grave situations such as accidental death.[29]

Home from home

Where development has been optimal, preadolescents 'come to school for something to be added to their lives; they want to learn lessons...which can lead to their eventually working in a job like their parents.'[30] When earlier developmental stages have gone astray, however, then, on the principle that 'if you miss a stage, you can always go through it later,'[31] some middle children 'come to school for another purpose...[not] to learn but to find a home from home...a stable emotional situation in which they can exercise their own emotional liability, a group of which they can gradually become a part.'[32]


Children at the threshold of adolescence in the nine-to-twelve-year-old group[33] would seem to have particular vulnerabilities to parental separation. Among such problems were the very 'eagerness of these youngsters to be co-opted into the parental battling; their willingness to take sides...and the intense, compassionate, caretaking relations which led these youngsters to attempt to rescue a distressed parent often to their own detriment.[34]


Preadolescents may well be more exposed to popular culture than younger children and have interests based on internet trends, television shows and movies (no longer just cartoons), fashion, technology, music and social media. Preadolescents generally prefer certain brands, and are a heavily targeted market of many advertisers. Their tendency to buy brand-name items may be due to a desire to fit in, although the desire is not as strong as it is with teenagers.

Some scholars suggest that 'pre-adolescents ... reported frequent encounters with sexual material in the media, valued the information received from it, and used it as a learning resource ... and evaluated such content through what they perceived to be sexual morality.'[35] However, other research has suggested that sexual media influences on preadolescent and adolescent sexual behavior is minimal.[36]


Freud called this stage the latency period to indicate that sexual feelings and interest went underground ... the feelings that create that first "eternal triangle" with the parents fade, and free energy for other interests and activities.'[37]Erik H. Erikson confirmed that 'violent drives are normally dormant ... a lull before the storm of puberty, when all the earlier drives re-emerge in a new combination, to be brought under the dominance of genitality.'[38]

Latency period children can then direct more of their energy into asexual pursuits such as school, athletics, and same-sex friendships: middle childhood especially is marked by 'the importance of school, teams, classes, friends, gangs and organised activities ... and the adults who run those.'[39] Nevertheless, recent research suggests that "most children do not cease sexual development, interest and behavior" at this time: rather, they "cease to share their interest with adults and are less frequently observed."[40] Because "they've learned the rules ... [they] fit in with the grown-up's belief that they're not interested. But the curiosity about it all continues, and there's quite a lot of experimenting going on between them.'[41] alongside other pursuits

But while the eight-year-old still has "years to wait until puberty, adolescence and finally sexual maturity ... a sort of lull before puberty arrives,'[42] with preadolescence proper (9–12), and the move forward from middle childhood, what have been called 'the introspective and social concerns of the prepubescent'[43] tend to come more to the fore. Clearly "few experiences are more prominent in the lives of preadolescents than the onset of puberty";[44] so that "at eleven or twelve you're just reaching the end of a long period during which change was steady and incremental":[45] Freud's latency years.

See also


  1. ^ abcNew Oxford American Dictionary. 2nd Edition. 2005. Oxford University Press.
  2. ^ abFrank D. Cox, Kevin Demmitt (2013). Human Intimacy: Marriage, the Family, and Its Meaning. Cengage Learning. p. 76. ISBN 1285633040. Retrieved February 25, 2017. 
  3. ^ abc"Puberty and adolescence". MedlinePlus. Archived from the original on April 3, 2013. Retrieved July 22, 2014. 
  4. ^ --> Definition of preadolescence (Based on the Random House Dictionary, 2009) Retrieved on July 5, 2009
  5. ^ abRobert C. Manske (2015). Fundamental Orthopedic Management for the Physical Therapist Assistant. Elsevier Health Sciences. p. 110. ISBN 0323291376. Retrieved February 25, 2017. 
  6. ^Nancy T. Hatfield (2007). Broadribb's Introductory Pediatric Nursing. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. p. 588. ISBN 0781777062. Retrieved February 25, 2017. 
  7. ^ abWilliam A. Corsaro, The Sociology of Childhood (2005) p. 191 and p. 124
  8. ^ abDonald C. Freeman, Essays in Modern Stylistics (1981) p. 399
  9. ^Cecilia Breinbauer (2005). Youth: Choices and Change : Promoting Healthy Behaviors in Adolescents. Pan American Health Organization. p. 303. ISBN 927511594X. Retrieved February 25, 2017. 
  10. ^Heather L. Appelbaum (2016). Abnormal Female Puberty: A Clinical Casebook. Springer. pp. 23–24. ISBN 331927225X. Retrieved February 25, 2017. 
  11. ^G. Ryan et al., Juvenile Sexual Offending (2010) p. 42
  12. ^A. Gesell et al., Youth (London 1956) p. 20
  13. ^ abMerriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. Eleventh Edition. 2003. Merriam-Webster.
  14. ^ abThe American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Fourth Edition. 2000. Houghton Mifflin Company.
  15. ^Levasseur, Maïthé (2007-02-09). Familiar with tweens? You should be.... The Tourism Intelligence Network. Retrieved on 2007-12-04.
  16. ^Krafft, Bob (1994). Coping With Your Feelings: Five Active Meetings for Your Junior Highers. p. 55. 
  17. ^Thornburg, Hershel (1974). Preadolescent development. p. 291. 
  18. ^Hjarvard, Stif Prof (2013). The Mediatization of Culture and Society. p. 107. 
  19. ^Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings; The Fellowship of the Ring Copyright 1965 by J.R.R Tolkien; Ballantine Books, A Division of Random House Inc. SBN 345-24032-4-150
  20. ^Dafna Lemish, Children and Television (Oxford 2007) p. 181
  21. ^David Cooper, The Death of the Family (Penguin 1974) p. 26
  22. ^Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (London 1996) p. 193
  23. ^Mavis Klein, Okay Parenting (1991) p. 13 and p. 78
  24. ^daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (London 1996) p. 194
  25. ^Mavis Klein, Okay Parenting (1991) p. 13
  26. ^E. Fenwick/T. Smith, Adolescence (London 1993) p. 29
  27. ^Goleman, p. 194
  28. ^Giselle Liza Anatol, Reading Harry Potter: Critical Essays (2003) p. 20
  29. ^"Boy aged 13 killed himself over Wii ban". Daily Mail. June 27, 2008. Retrieved January 9, 2013.  – via HighBeam Research(subscription required)
  30. ^D. W. Winnicott, The Child, the Family, and the Outside World (Penguin 1973) p. 207
  31. ^Skynner/Cleese, p. 24
  32. ^Winnicott, p. 208
  33. ^Ann Charlton, Caught in the Middle (London 2003) p. 90
  34. ^Charlton, p. 90
  35. ^Dafna Lemish, Children and Television (Oxford 2007) p. 116
  36. ^Steinberg, L., & Monahan, K. 2010. Developmental Psychology.
  37. ^Robin Skynner/John Cleese, Families and how to survive them (London 1994) p. 271 and p. 242
  38. ^Erik H Erikson, Childhood and Society (Penguin 1973) p. 252
  39. ^Lisa Miller, Understanding Your 8 year old (London 1993) p. 26
  40. ^Ryan, Juvenile p. 41-42
  41. ^Skynner/Cleese, Families p. 271
  42. ^Miller, p. 23 and p. 75
  43. ^Michell Landsberg, The World of Children's Books (London 1988) p. 270
  44. ^Anatol, Potter p. 21
  45. ^Francis Spufford, The Child that Books Built (London 2002) p. 163

Further reading

  • Myers, James. "Tweens and cool", Admap, March 2004.
  • G. Berry Brazelton, Heart Start: The Emotional Foundations of School Readiness 9Arlington 1992)
Approximate outline of development periods in child development. Preadolescence and preteen marked at center left.

Historians and social critics differ on the specifics of the timeline, but most cultural observers agree that the strange and fascinating creature known as the American teenager — as we now understand the species — came into being sometime in the early 1940s. This is not to say that for millennia human beings had somehow passed from childhood to adulthood without enduring the squalls of adolescence. But the modern notion of the teen years as a recognized, quantifiable life stage, complete with its own fashions, behavior, vernacular and arcane rituals, simply did not exist until the post-Depression era.

Here, in the first of a series of galleries on the evolution of LIFE magazine's — and, by extension, America's — view of teenagers through the middle part of the 20th century, presents photos that the inimitable Nina Leen shot for a December 1944 article, "Teen-Age Girls: They Live in a Wonderful World of Their Own."

Leen focused on a group of 12 girls, from 15 to 17 years old, living in Webster Groves, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis.

(Note the hyphenated phrase, "teen-age." By all accounts, it would be several years before the word as we spell it today, "teenager," would make an appearance in the pages of LIFE. The word "teen-agers" itself, meanwhile, likely made its debut in print in a 1941 issue of Popular Science Monthly.)

In its December 1944 feature, LIFE breathlessly discussed the "teen-age" phenomenon in language that, in 2013, somehow feels naive, chauvinistic, celebratory and insightful, all at once. That so many of the article's impossibly broad, sweeping claims ("Some 6,000,000 U.S. teen-age girls live in a world all their own: a lovely, gay, enthusiastic, funny and blissful society. . . .") clearly apply to a specific type of teenager — i.e., white, middle-class — tends to blunt some of the more incisive observations. But taken as a whole, the LIFE article and Leen's photographs constitute a fascinating, early look at a segment of the American populace that, over the ensuing decades, for better and for worse, has assumed an increasingly central role in the shaping of Western culture.

As LIFE stated the case to its millions of readers in 1944:

There is a time in the life of every American girl when the most important thing in the world is to be one of a crowd of other girls and to act and speak and dress exactly as they do. This is the teen age.

Some 6,000,000 U.S. teen-age girls live in a world all their own — a lovely, gay, enthusiastic, funny and blissful society almost untouched by the war. It is a world of sweaters and skirts and bobby sox and loafers, of hair worn long, of eye-glass rims painted red with nail polish, of high school boys no yet gone to war. It is world still devoted to parents who are pals even if they use the telephone too much. It is a world of Vergil's Aeneid, second-year French and plane geometry, of class plays, field hockey, "moron" jokes and put-on accents. It is a world of slumber parties and the Hit Parade, of peanut butter and popcorn and the endless collecting of menus and match covers and little stuffed animals.

American businessmen, many of whom have teen-age daughters, have only recently begun to realize that teen-agers make up a big and special market. . . . The movies and the theater make money by turning a sometimes superficial and sometimes social-minded eye on teen-agers.

Their new importance means little to teen-age millions. By their energy, originality and good looks they have brought public attention down from debutantes and college girls to themselves. Moving through the awkward age, the troubles of growing up, their welter of fads and taboos, they eventually become — in the judgment of almost every Western nation — the most attractive women in the world.

Then again, perhaps that particular discussion is best left to another series on -- one looking at, say, LIFE's portrayal of women through the years?

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.