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Toddler vs. Teenager

Updated on February 25, 2014


On the surface, the difference between toddlers and teenagers may seem to be extreme, but they are much more alike than you might imagine. Obviously most teenagers are a lot bigger and stronger than most toddlers, and they are certainly not nearly as cute. But I believe they have more in common than they have significant differences. Here is a comparison of some of the characteristics of both.

Hygiene: Toddlers tend to smell like whatever they just ate (and got on themselves). Teenagers, with their decreased interest in hygiene, tend to smell like body odor. Neither toddler nor teenager seems to have much interest in washing their hands or face.

Both Teenagers and toddlers, when caught doing something they should not, will lie right to your face even though they know you saw them do it.

Neither toddlers nor teenagers understand basic logic as expressed by an adult.

Things that are good for toddlers or teenagers, things that will help them grow or learn or are otherwise beneficial are useless unless they are fun.

Both are happy to spend every dime they possess on a new toy, both are easily distracted, and both enjoy making a mess.

So you see, toddlers and teenagers have a lot in common. However, they do have differences.

Toddler Vehicle
Toddler Vehicle | Source
Teenager Vehicle
Teenager Vehicle


Teenagers are usually a lot bigger than toddlers. If a toddler lays on the ground screaming and kicking because they don't want to go where you want them to, you can pick them up and tuck them into the crook of your arm like a football and go on your merry way. If a teenager lays on the ground, you might really hurt yourself trying to get them on their feet.

Teenagers are usually a lot smarter than toddlers. In fact, they are often smarter than their parents - not in the sense that they know anything, but in the sense that they can be mentally quicker. So if a teenager tells you a lie to avoid trouble or work, they might be good enough at it to fool you.

And of course teenagers are much more autonomous than toddlers. Teenagers go where they want to go, under their own power and without supervision, and without calling their parents to let them know where they are and/or what they're doing.

One rule of thumb you can use is this: bigger child, bigger problems. Usually toddler problems do not involve social workers or psychologists whereas teenager problems often do. When a toddler crashes their vehicle it might result in a skinned knee. When a teenager crashes their vehicle the result is often much more serious. Through the scary business of teenager-hood, however, one can remember this: we were teenagers and we survived.

Does a Toddler Prepare a Parent for the Teenage Years?

One thing you learn as a parent is that your child changes hundreds of times as they grow, and little of the past prepares you for the future. One of the best things you can do to keep up is to talk to other parents. Hear their horror stories and share some of your own. Sometimes you'll find that you need that comparison to reassure yourself that your child isn't an aberration, but just a teenager.

Teenager Truth

Those of us who have had the privilege of living with our teenage progeny can attest to the complete veracity of everything they tell us. Yes, bucko, they always tell us the truth – at least according to them.

Following are some examples of teenager ‘truths’ and their translations:

Teenager: “I’m going to the mall.”
Translation: “I’m going past a mall.”

Teenager: “I need twenty dollars for lunch.”
Translation: “I need three dollars for lunch and seventeen dollars for stuff you don’t want me to have.”

Teenage girl: “No, there won’t be any boys there.”
Translation: “No, there won’t be any boys you know there.”

Teenage boy: “I did not eat that pound of chocolate chip cookies. Maybe I had one or two.”
Translation: “I don’t remember eating the pound of cookies because I ate them while watching TV.”

Teenager: “I never did that.”
Translation: “You never saw me do that.”

Teenager: “I cleaned my room.”
Translation: “I kicked the mess around in my room so that it looks different.”

Teenager: “I always drive within the speed limit.”
Translation: “I always drive as fast as the car can go.”

Teenager: “There was a fire drill in school today.”
Translation: “I am going to use the idea of a fire drill that occurred much earlier in the day as an alibi for cutting class in the afternoon.”

Teenager: “My friend gave it to me.”
Translation: “I bought it with your money.”

Teenager: “My teacher recommended this book.”
Translation: “My teenage friend recommended this really inappropriate book.”

Teenager: “I’m on my way home now.”
Translation: “I’ll be home when I damn well feel like it.”

Teenager: "I respect you."
Translation: "I think you are a compleat idiot."

Teenager: “I’m telling you the truth!”
Translation: “The story I am telling you is actually the truth in some parallel universe.”

Teenager Truth Meter

My teenager tells the truth:

See results

Comparative Intelligence Meter

My teenager is:

See results


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    • profile image

      Leah 5 months ago

      DD is still a toddler. I'm preparing myself for what lies ahead with DS he's still a baby but getting bigger. I'm thinking about baby number three as well.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 2 years ago from United States

      I am honored when anyone finds my writing helpful. It is a great compliment. :) Thank you.

      Teenagers are definitely not bad people. A very few teenagers do very bad things, but most just want to have fun without hurting others, and that's just fine. Usually they love to laugh, and since I do too, I usually get along with teenagers pretty well.

      I hope you get an 'A' on your paper.

    • profile image

      Dee 2 years ago

      In my opinion, as a teenager, I disagree yet also agree with some of this info. I actually do clean my room when told, I never use my moms money I earn my own, I happen to love to read books actually recommended by parents, grandparents etc., and I really do respect my mom. On the other hand, I sometimes do tend to lie when I'm in a sticky situation, and I do tend to take more cookies then told. I mean who wouldn't? Moms are always the best! All I wanted to say was NOT ALL TEENAGERS ARE BAD. I am actually on this website for my compare and contrast paper and I found it quite helpful. Thanks :D

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 3 years ago from United States

      Sigh. You caught me. Not all teenagers are bigger, less cute than, or more devious than toddlers. After all I have met some big, ugly, devious toddlers in my time. My apologies to the tiny, beautiful, innocent teenagers of the world. I should have included a disclaimer. Cheers.

    • profile image

      greeneyedblondie 3 years ago

      Stereotype alert! Gees.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 3 years ago from United States

      Whatevs. Thanks for texting whole words.

    • profile image

      al3x 3 years ago

      what a pathetic article

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 3 years ago from United States

      Toddlers are much more fun when they belong to someone else. Then they are so cute. If they happen to be laying on the floor kicking and screaming at the time, you can just walk away. When they're yours, sometimes the only solution that works is ear plugs. However, this is usually their most destructive behavior. A teenager's most destructive behavior can be really scary.

    • TOPTENKIDS profile image

      Lexi Belliston 3 years ago from USA

      Thanks for all the great information. I loved the information on toddlers.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 3 years ago from United States

      Teenage tantrums are a bit scarier than toddler tantrums but in many respects they are exactly the same. Thank you, iguide!

    • iguidenetwork profile image

      iguidenetwork 3 years ago from Austin, TX

      Tantrums and sudden behavioral changes. And both are hard to deal with. :)

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 5 years ago from United States

      Thanks, Faye! It's excellent to have that validation from someone with your experience :)

    • profile image

      Faye Hill 5 years ago

      I absolutely agree with you. I have eight children and I have most definitely seen this pattern. You have made some very good points even though most teens would never admit it. Thank you. I really enjoyed reading it.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 6 years ago from United States

      Very good points, Holly. Thank you for adding your comments, I appreciate them very much.

    • profile image

      Holly  6 years ago

      I do not agree with the whole teenagers "both are easily distracted, and both enjoy making a mess." Well you would have to limit that to a certain extint. You would have to have valid understanding that not all teens are the same. But i have never known a teenagers to "love making a mess" I am a teenager. All in all this was a good hub, but hey i have a right to voice how i feel...

    • wannabwestern profile image

      Carolyn Augustine 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors

      I have one entering the toddler stage, one leaving it, and the other is well on the way to being a teen. I think you are spot on, because I have observed the behavior, both similarities and differences, in my own home. I would only add that teenagers often throw tantrums, but they may deny the tantrum-throwing on the grounds that they aren't kicking and screaming.

      Also, toddlers who are upset can often be distracted into calming down, while teenagers are like pitbulls and don't easily let go of disagreements.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States

      Thanks, Mcacreate. They are indeed their own species :)

    • mcacreate profile image

      mcacreate 7 years ago

      From the moment I saw the title thought "I've got to read this." While I don't have kids of my own, my girlfriend has three. I've had to live with two as teens so I have the experience. You often hear the expression "terrible twos." I think "terrible teens should be added. Anyway, great hub. I really enjoyede it.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States

      In many ways a toddler thinks much more logically than a teenager, I'm afraid, Londongirl.

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 8 years ago from London

      I hope you can reason more with a teenager?


      Oh well.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States

      Thanks very much, dr c.

    • dr c profile image

      dr c 8 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area

      great hub, well written, I like your honesty about your experiences & your sense of humor

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States

      Enjoy the ride, though it is much too short!

    • Nordy profile image

      Nordy 8 years ago from Canada

      Thanks for answering my request and confirming my suspicions that a toddler is really just a shorter, less mentally mature teenager! That's good advice that the past won't really prepare me for the future - its amazing how much my daughter has already changed and evolved in her short sixteen months! Thanks for the interesting hub.