How Individual Differences Affect Your Tween's Development

A group of teenage girls laughing

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While your tween may be on target developmentally, parents should know how individual differences play into puberty and adolescence. Individual differences in psychology are the variations from one person to another on variables such as attitude, values, self-esteem, the rate of cognitive development or degree of agreeableness—think of it as all of the little bits and pieces that set us apart and makes us unique from others. Historically, psychological science has overlooked individual differences in favor of focusing on average behavior.

For instance, we know that, on average, girls first experience signs of puberty around 10.5 years of age. While this is important information, it's also valuable to consider differences in pubertal development. Some girls experience puberty very early or very late. Psychologists have realized that either situation can have major consequences for the girl's future.

If we only studied the average—in other words, if we overlooked individual differences—we would miss out on key information about child development.

Which Individual Differences Does Your Tween Exhibit?

Individual differences have been most often studied in the area of personality development. Psychologists have collected vast amounts of data on how people vary from one another in terms of their traits. For instance, they have noted that individual differences in the "Big Five" personality traits first strongly appear during the tween years. These personality traits that contribute to individual differences include:


Is your tween responsible or hardworking? Is he or she early, on time or always late for appointments? Does he or she tackle homework without being asked?


Does your tween have positive social interactions? Is she or he pleasant to be around, affectionate towards others, helpful or cooperative?

Openness to Experience

Is your tween imaginative or have a high level of creativity? Is he or she flexible, curious or adventurous? Does he or she like listening to new music, learning new things, trying new foods or going to new places? Is he or she an open person who likes to have variety in his day-to-day life or crave novelty?


Does your tween have a regular tendency to be anxious, angry, feel guilty or depressed? High levels of neuroticism can mean responding poorly to stress, experience fear or hopelessness in everyday situations, is this the case with your tween?


Is your tween energized by being around other people? This trait is the opposite of an introvert, who is energized by being alone.

How Adolescent Psychology Can Help Support Your Tween's Growth and Development

All in all, the study of individual differences helps us to understand not only what makes humans similar to one another, but also what makes them different. By considering the variations that can occur from one person to another, we can best understand the full range of human behavior.

We can also come to understand what constitutes normal variation, such as which developmental rates may be red flags for intervention, as in the case of learning disorders, which may be attributed to a combination of individual differences.

A 2014 study of 12-year-old twins found the main causes of individual differences to be hereditary or environmental (researchers took a close look at the classic nature vs. nurture argument). When it comes to your own tween's growth and development, the study suggests allowing your tween to try as many experiences as possible so that she or he can discover her appetite and aptitude for different skills.

Let your tween select, modify, and create his or her own experiences and environments rather than relying on a one-size-fits-all approach that is presented by average behavior models. This means you will have to parent each child differently depending on the circumstances.

Look to create an individualized approach and encourage your tween to follow preferences that interest him or her and mesh with their individual differences the most.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Physical Development in Girls: What to Expect During Puberty.

  2. Grevenstein D, Bluemke M. Can the Big Five explain the criterion validity of Sense of Coherence for mental health, life satisfaction, and personal distress? Personality and Individual Differences. 2015;77:106-111. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2014.12.053

  3. Plomin R, Shakeshaft NG, McMillan A, Trzaskowski M. Nature, nurture, and expertiseIntelligence. 2014;45:46-59. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2013.06.008

By Rebecca Fraser-Thill
Rebecca Fraser-Thill holds a Master's Degree in developmental psychology and writes about child development and tween parenting.