Tween: Child Development (9-11 Years Old)

  • Medical Author:
    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    Dr. Mersch received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, and prior to entering the University Of Southern California School Of Medicine, was a graduate student (attaining PhD candidate status) in Experimental Pathology at USC. He attended internship and residency at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.


In 1954, when J.R.R. Tolkien penned the Lord of the Rings, he christened the mid 20-year-old irresponsible Hobbits as "tweens -- between childhood and adulthood," which was arbitrarily achieved at 33 years of age in Middle Earth. This moniker has been recently resurrected to describe children between 9 to 11 years of age who are in their own transition from the relative tranquility of late childhood to the chaos that is endemic during the teenage years.

What are milestones in cognitive and academic development for tweens (children 9-11 years of age)?

In Piaget's stages of cognitive development, the 9- to 11-year-old child has entered the period of "concrete operations." This time span is characterized by the developing capability of organizing thought processes and use of deductive reasoning to successfully anticipate consequences. In addition, the ability to sort items by recognizing the abstract and more complex similarities is developing (for example, car, airplane, boat = all modes of transportation vs. a more immature lumping together based upon color similarities). Mathematical reciprocal relationships also become comprehensible (for example, 5 + 3 = 8, therefore 8 – 5 = 3). Generally, a longer attention span has set in (30-45 minutes), and the tween enjoys mental and physical challenges. Academically the 9- to 11-year-old student starts to develop the ability to form an opinion based upon presented evidence. He is also mastering the ability to present his own beliefs to his peers and parents. For example, the ability to analyze a written story and categorize it as fiction or nonfiction, is noted. By the end of this period, the child should be able to write several paragraphs supporting his argument. Editing his composition for grammar, punctuation, and spelling is expected.

What are milestones in psychological and emotional development for tweens?

The tween age range can be filled with anxiety. The development of real fears (such as kidnappings, war, violence) replaces fantasy fears (such as witches, monsters, boogie man). The development of delayed gratification is a consequence of the realization that current events may impact the future. The 9- to 11-year-old starts down the path of self-identity, independence, and development of moral values that will mark the teen years. The importance of "group identity" is established. Marketing capitalizes on this behavior when it exploits brand-name appeal (clothes, music, etc.) as more important than appearance or product quality. Advertising companies are also well aware that such allegiance is short lived and fickle; hence the rapid product-line changes. A major emotional step for this age group is exemplified in the realization that self-interest may need to take a back seat to the needs of others. Finally, it is during this two-year time frame that "puppy love" may first be experienced. The tween's experience of non-parental infatuation can be unnerving to both the child and his parents.

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