Discussion Post: Young Adult vs Teen. What is the difference?


This is a post that kind of follows up the post I did last month on how mature young adult books should be and how we police them.  This is something that’s been bothering me a bit.


Why do publishers consider young adult to be 14+?


The US National Library of Medicine defines young adult as 19-24 years of age.  Now that sounds correct to me.  I would add 18 in there.  But the term adult is generally someone 18 or older.  And young adult would be early in the adult years.  The teenage years are 13-19.


The psychology definition:  generally a person ranging in age from their late teens or early twenties into their thirties.


Young Adult:

(noun)  A person in their late teens or early twenties

(adjective)  Intended or suitable for adolescents, especially those in their mid to late teens

So as an adjective, the age is different than the noun.  Why?


I also looked up teen literature along with ya.  Teen:  13-19  YA:  19-21

Protagonist is generally 15-19.  Younger end of teens is common in middle grade.


Young adult is also defined as the stage between adolescence and adulthood.  By human development, that is 15-24.  I’m not sure if this is physical or mental (or both).


So why does the publishing business consider YA to be 14+?  Why the differences in definition?  Is this more US based or is it everywhere?  What are your thoughts?


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Author: confessionsofayareader

My name is Kristi and I review books and mod on TBR and Beyond on Facebook. I love to travel and go to concerts. I've been married for over 20 years. I listen to a lot of pop punk. Otherwise, I'm pretty boring. We do have four grandchildren now and try to see them monthly since they don't live close. I read mostly YA and adult mystery/thrillers. I also read a lot of middle grade and some adult romance. You can also find me on facebook, twitter, and instagram (don't post often).

13 thoughts on “Discussion Post: Young Adult vs Teen. What is the difference?”

  1. It is tricky territory for me as a school librarian (school has 11-18 yr olds). A lot of YA books I read have swearing and sexual references that I know wouldn’t go down well with parents (I had a complaint a few months back that a girl had taken home a book with the word F*ck). I can’t possibly read every single book to see whether it is suitable or not. Yet some YA books are very tame and any student could read them, some I’d say are 14+, some 16+. I firmly believe middle grade should be 9-13 yrs, YA should be 18-24 and then a TEEN section in the middle for 13-18.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you 100%. Mature teens can read the YA, but it would be easier for parents if they’re a bit harder to get. My mom let me read adult at 11/12, but I know other parents that just won’t allow it. It’s tough because you know teens deal with some of those situations that would be in YA, but I think they will read what they want. It would just be easier for teachers, librarians, and stores to have three age groups.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I had NO idea this was the age range, but thinking to some (not all) YA books I read, it makes sense. This is something I haven’t even thought about for my kids as they get older!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think, having been in education, a lot of it comes down to the personality of the student. To that end, some “older” YA is best left outside of High School. Who gets to determine that becomes tricky. For instance, I don’t know that ACOTAT (I hope I have that acronym right) or SOC belongs in school but The Hate U Give does. But many might not agree. It becomes a really slippery slope. So do you let it all in or risk the consequence of who gets to determine what?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s why it’s so hard. I think THUG’s main issue was the f word. So schools were banning it, even though it was an important social issue. I think the ones people mostly have trouble with are the ones where teens seem much older than they are. Sex, drugs, alcohol, relationships that are inappropriate, etc. I think those are common with teens though, so I’m not sure where you can draw the line. I do know some stores still use the word “teen” for the YA section. So that gets confusing, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. No idea honestly as in French we don’t have new adult etc more like “children” (under 12 ) “teen” from 12 to 17-18 and then …the rest I guess! But I agree with you a “young adult” should be from 18 till 24 or 25.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great topic for debate. I find the YA/NA area very confusing and frequently wouldn’t be able to tell you if the book I just read was appropriate for either audience – I don’t tend to think of it when I’m reading or reviewing and the definitions seem to be a bit all over the place.
    Lynn 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  6. WHOA you bring up a good point on how young adult is defined outside of publishing and I think it would alleviate a lot of issues I have? I tend to enjoy upper YA more because it feels more ‘early adulthood’ to me, but teenagers deserve books too… and there just isn’t a lot in lower YA.

    Liked by 1 person

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