Eleven-year-olds are in a transitional stage of life. They are no longer little children, but they aren’t quite teenagers either. So what do we call young people of this age? There are a few common terms used to refer to 11 year olds.
One of the most common labels for 11 year olds is “preteens.” The term preteen refers to a child who is approaching their teen years but not quite there yet. Typically, preteens are considered to be between the ages of 10-12.
The word “preteen” first came into use in the 1950s. It grew in popularity over subsequent decades as marketers recognized the spending power this age group held. The rise of television shows, magazines, toys, clothes and other consumer products targeted specifically at the preteen demographic led to the widespread adoption of the term.
While “preteen” can apply to any child between 10-12 years old, it is most commonly associated with 11 year olds. Eleven is right in the middle of this stage – no longer an innocent child, but not yet a moody adolescent either. Eleven is the transitional bridge between childhood and the teenage years.
Another label used for 11 year olds is “tween.” This term also denotes a child who is no longer little but not yet a teenager. Like preteen, tween overlaps with ages 10-12.
The word tween is a portmanteau of “between” and “teen.” It refers to being in between two stages. While tween and preteen are often used interchangeably, some people associate tween more specifically with the 11-12 range.
Marketers have embraced the tween concept since it first emerged in the 1980s. Tween fiction, tween movies, tween clothing, tween cosmetics and a whole tween culture has developed around this in-between demographic. For companies, tweens represent an important consumer group because they have their own purchasing power and influence over family spending.
Most 11 year olds are in 6th grade, so “sixth grader” is another common label. This term defines them by their school grade rather than a specific age range.
In the U.S. education system, 6th grade is usually the first year of middle school. It comes after finishing elementary school but before entering high school. This transitional academic year mirrors the transitional stage of life 11 year olds are going through.
Being a sixth grader gives kids more independence and responsibility compared to elementary school, yet less freedom than high schoolers. Like all the labels for this age, sixth grade occupies a middle ground between child and teen.
Junior High Students
Some school districts use the “junior high” model rather than middle school. Junior high consists of grades 7-9 or 7-8, bridging elementary and high school. Eleven year olds in these districts will be called junior high students.
The term “junior high” is less commonly used today than in the past, as most school systems now use the middle school model. But it is still prevalent in some areas. Like sixth grade, the junior high label defines 11 year olds by their grade in school.
Preteens vs. Tweens
Since the terms preteen and tween are so similar, is there any difference between them? Here are a few key ways the two labels compare:
|Ages 10-12 years old||Ages 10-12 years old|
|First used in the 1950s||First used in the 1980s|
|Emphasizes approaching teen years||Emphasizes in-between stage|
|Originally a marketing term||Originally a marketing term|
|Gender neutral||Gender neutral|
As this table demonstrates, tween and preteen are more similar than different. The main distinction is that preteen connotes getting closer to the teen years, while tween focuses more on the between space. But the terms are largely interchangeable in common usage.
Why So Many Labels?
You may wonder why we need so many different labels for 11 year olds. Can’t we just call them 11 year olds? The proliferation of marketing terms like tween and preteen points to a couple factors at work:
– 11 year olds are an important consumer demographic that companies want to target. Labels like preteen help segment and identify this lucrative market.
– Being 11 is a major transitional life stage with unique attributes. General terms like “child” or “kid” fail to capture the in-between nature of this age. Labels like tween acknowledge the developmental phase they are going through.
– As 11 year olds gradually gain more independence, they often don’t want to be referred to as small children anymore. Terms like preteen help grant them a more mature identity.
So while we could just use their age, labels provide nuance into the distinct stage of life and growth that 11 represents. The tweens and preteens of the world want to feel respected in their transition.
How 11 Year Olds Refer to Themselves
When an 11 year old introduces themselves, what terms do they use? Most will simply say “I’m 11” or “I’m in 6th grade.” They identify by their age or school grade rather than using the adult terminology.
Some may adopt the label tweens or preteens, especially those who have older siblings who use those terms. Marketers of youth entertainment and products have also popularized the tween and preteen concepts with kids this age. But more often, they continue to self-identify by their age.
Historical Terms for 11 Year Olds
While tween, preteen and sixth grader are contemporary labels, here are some historical terms used for 11 year olds:
– Younker – An archaic word for a young boy or lad, originally derived from the Dutch “jonkheer” meaning young lord.
– Lass – An old fashioned word for a young girl, sometimes extended to boys as well. Lads and lasses were youth approaching adulthood.
– Buttons – In medieval England, young pages who served in noble households were called buttons around age 11. This nickname came from the buttons or knots they wore on their clothing.
So in eras past, terms like younker, lass and buttons would have denoted 11 year olds. But modern language favors labels like preteens that capture the transition they are going through.
Eleven year olds occupy a bridging age between childhood and adolescence. That’s why they have many labels that try to define this transitional life stage. While we could just use their age, terms like preteen, tween and sixth grader convey that 11 is a developmental phase all its own.
As our understanding of youth development has grown, we’ve moved beyond generic labels like “child” or “kid.” The tween/preteen concepts acknowledge that the transition from age 10 to 12 represents an important period of maturation. So next time you interact with a child this age, recognize they are no longer little kids but not quite teenagers either. Eleven is the cusp between child and young adult, the last year of innocence before the angst of adolescence. Know that 11 year olds may resent being talked down to like a small child. Terms like preteen and tween show respect for the bridge they are crossing into young adulthood.