We hear it all the time, “These kids today are growing up too fast.”
There are days when we all definitely feel this way. It seems like we blink and suddenly go from pacifiers, mickey mouse playhouse and that sweet baby smell to minecraft, begging to watch PG13 movies and a certain stank coming from our the rooms of our growing boys.
For a long time, I believed it was the outside world pushing kids to act and behave older than they should, and it was my job to try and help mine maintain their childhood just a little bit longer.
Then what started as a typical email exchange with a friend completely changed my perspective on my role in all this and the power of one simple word “tweens”.
The Word I Never Questioned
When my oldest child was close to his 10th Birthday, I began saying fairly regularly and with just a little bit of dread, that he was nearing the “tween” years. I didn’t really think much about using the term, it basically felt like I was just accepting a natural addition to the vocabulary of 21st century parenting. So, when I emailed a friend and used the term to hassle her a bit about her own ten-year-old daughter, I was caught off guard when she emailed back the following response.
“I don’t believe in ‘tweens’, So, I figure I’m good for a few years.”
I thought to myself, “What?! What does she mean she doesn’t believe in ‘tweens’?” As I let her comment sink in over the next few days, I began to wonder more about the nuances of this little word. Clearly, it was meant to describe that awkward and awful stage between childhood and teen.
However, I also began to realize that perhaps there was more loaded into the definition beyond the obvious. Why had this entirely new stage of adolescent development emerged in recent years? I confess I thought maybe it was a Disney invention, since it seemed to be most closely associated with an evolution of some of their television programming.
After awhile I couldn’t resist emailing my friend back and asking her to explain further. Here is how she responded:
“I think sometimes by labeling an age, we give it more importance than it deserves. And maybe give too much leeway for bad behavior. Is she different then she was in kindergarten? Yes. But does this stage deserve its own label? Eh.. I feel like ‘tween’ is just a big marketing ploy to make us think they are different creatures with different needs.”
The Evolution of “Tweens”
Ding, Ding, Ding.
Bells were ringing in my head as I read her response. My friend was TOTALLY right. And no wonder I had made the connection between “tween” and Disney. Almost overnight, an entire industry of television shows, books, and other products targeted to “tweens” had become pervasive in our culture. Even worse, “tween” territory has been continually expanding to take in younger and younger kids each year.
The minute your child has grown beyond Mickey Mouse and Dora The Explorer, it’s immediately time to shift to Jessie, Austin and Ally and Teen Beach Movie. You know what, Dora is a sweet preschooler with a back pack who sings songs and hangs out with her animal friends. These other shows feature teenagers that look and dress like models, date, worry about popularity and in some cases actually are the adults on the show.
When did seven become the new seventeen?
A Tween by Any Other Name is Still a Kid
It’s not that we want to keep our children little forever or raise them in some sort of bubble. However, with each day that passes we all become painfully aware of how short their childhood really is. So, it’s hard to understand why in our age of helicopter parenting, we have so easily allowed a simple label like “tween” to increasingly chip away at those precious years, months, and days.
My friend may be on to something with her approach. The reality is, whether they are seven or seventeen and whatever label you put on those ages, they are still kids, and it should be us, their parents, not today’s modern marketing machine dictating what is appropriate.
Plus, as quickly as this time is going by, we probably all would admit it would be really nice to be “good for a few more years.”
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How about you, do you believe in Tweens?