Of course, 8-12 year old kids are nothing new, but their identity as a uniquely recognized demographic certainly is. For students of history, it’s not surprising that the term and concept of “adolescents” and “teenagers” is a relatively new invention, too. While adolescents in general were the invention, in some ways, of early nineteenth century labor laws and subsequent compulsory education, the concept of tweens is largely a newly discovered marketing niche. The first tweens to be recognized as such are part of the second wave of Generation Y and are projected to spend about 1.5 billion dollars a year.
Once upon a time, tweens were part of a more general population of “children.” Today’s tweens, however, bear only biological resemblance to their more naïve and playful predecessors. So what’s stealing away childhood so early? According to Kay S. Hymowitz’s 1998 article Tweens: Ten Going on Sixteen, it’s a combination of two things:
- Media overexposure
- Burnt-out parents who are happy to have kids old enough to look after themselves
In addition to influencing today’s young people separately, these two factors also interact because the latter (children being home alone) tends to open up more opportunities for media use. Both parental absence and media overload work together to encourage closer connections between these pseudo-children and their older peers, which compound the chances of wishful teen-ish behavior, fashion, and appetites.
These kids crave identity and a sense of belonging, and when they mimic what they see in media outlets and at the mall, they feel like they’re on their way to achieving those goals.
According to Hymowitz’s groundbreaking and controversial article, “Kids, like nature, abhor a vacuum, and the power of the school peer group grows luxuriantly in soil left fallow by a rootless home life. With no one home, today’s tween is captive to an age-segregated peer group whose inflexible customs and mall-driven ideals are too often the only ones he knows.”
Those “inflexible customs” include a sophisticated image that can be described by words like “cool,” “sexy,” and “trendy.” Especially with 2 tweens in the White House, this group’s idea of what’s cool is making major headlines these days. From music to movies and video games, technology certainly also plays a major role. Also high on the list are intelligence, fashion, and environmentally friendly practices.
Many parents who perhaps unwittingly enable their tween children’s premature quest to grow up probably feel the same way Hymowitz does about her daughter: “[My tween daughter] can’t understand why I am literally being a drag, my heels making deep ruts as I resist being pulled by her into her shiny, exciting teenagerhood. And I have a hard time understanding why she wants so much to leap away from childhood, when for the rest of her life she’ll want to get back to the place where the world was safe and nobody knew what poor Britney Spears was doing.”
To encourage your child to enjoy the phase of their life that they’re currently in, rather than wanting to jump right into young adulthood, spend time with them as a family doing wholesome activities. Explain to them the fickle nature of passing trends and media sensations, and encourage them to have fun being exactly who they are. It also helps to impose rules and guidelines that limit their freedoms; you are the parent, after all. Mostly, do your best to remember that despite your child’s grown-up tastes and habits, he or she is still a child in mind and heart.