Maturity is a gradual process, and while you’ll see obvious differences between a 10-year-old preteen and a senior in high school, it may be a little more difficult to identify the differences between preteens and teens who are closer in age. Aside from the obvious physical differences, preteens and teens also have emotional, social and cognitive differences. In either case, they still need parental love, guidance and support.
Attaining independence is the challenge facing both preteens and teens, although they may feel a bit ambivalent about it at times. Many preteens want to be independent and also conform, according to Education.com. Preteens may seem embarrassed by their parents and shrug off displays of affection, especially when their friends are around, according to KidsHealth.org. Older teens are more likely to challenge parental rules, but they are also generally more self-assured and better able to resist peer pressure than younger teens and preteens, according to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.
Ages 10 to 12
The 10- to 12-year-old preteen will usually go through a growth spurt in preparation for puberty. Girls tend to start growth spurts earlier, but boys' growth spurts tend to last longer, according to Education.com. Girls may begin having menstrual periods toward the end of this stage. Both sexes may begin to have sexual thoughts and feelings. This is an age when children often begin to become more focused on academics and to think about careers. Emotionally, preteens are very focused on appearance, and they tend to give precedence to peers rather than family. Girls are likely to develop problems with self-esteem during this stage.
Ages 11 to 14
The years from 11 to 14 can be a time when children display characteristics of both younger preteens and older teens, according to PAMF. This age group wants to fit in, especially with the peer group. They may spend hours on the phone talking to friends as a way to develop social skills. This is also the age when they begin to challenge parental authority. They are very self-focused, but don’t believe anything bad can ever happen to them, so they may take foolish risks. They are still concrete, black-and-white thinkers and are just beginning to connect their actions and consequences, something older teens may do better, although often inconsistently.
Ages 15 to 18
Teens between the ages of 15 and 18 are increasingly independent. They may take after-school or summer jobs, develop career plans and spend less time with parents. They are also more susceptible to sadness and depression than preteens are, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teens in this age range and up to the age of 19 are more likely to be involved in motor vehicle crashes or to become homicide or suicide victims than younger teens and preteens, according to PAMF. Physically, most girls have reached full development, and boys are close behind, although they may continue to gain height and muscle. Older teens are much better at solving problems and understanding the effects of their decisions. They may also be more organized than their younger preteen counterparts.