When a Teenager?

Write of Passage

While reading Vampire Gamesby J.R. Rain, a phrase caught my attention–not because it was especially unusual or even well-written, but because it got me wondering about how we use certain words. The clause was “…still three years shy of being a teenager” and the reference was to a ten-year-old girl. Since the suffix -teenrefers to numbers in the tens, it got me thinking about why we start calling kids teenagers only from the point when they turn thirteen. Is it only because that is when the teen suffix is first used? Or is there a social or developmental association that is conveyed by the age thirteen?

Technically, a child of ten is a “teenager.” Usage-wise, the ten-year-old is still a child, not a teenager or adolescent. Technically, in languages other than English, a teen-equivalent affix (prefix or suffix), may come after thirteen. In Spanish, the teen prefix starts…

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