Have you heard the word “tween” being thrown about? What does that even mean?
In the past two decades a new classification of young people has emerged. No one really knows when the word tween was first used. Some say it was stolen from the early twenty-somethings. Other’s say it was born out of necessity because of the internet. Most agree it’s a combination of of “between” and “teen” – not young children anymore but not teenagers either. At least not yet.
However it came about, tweens are now a legitimate class of young people and companies around the globe are pouring billions of dollars into advertising to entice, grab, and make customers out of this new age-category.
Depending on who you ask you will get differing views about the age range for this group. Some say it’s kids 8 to 14. Others say 7 to 13. The Old School still says 10 to 12 and there is even a New School that says it starts as early as five. After researching this topic extensively, I categorize this group as 8 to 13 year olds with overflow on both ends depending on maturity.
Seven or eight you ask? Yup. What it means is that kids as young as second grade are now seen as a viable market group and are being pandered to by advertisers, clothing companies, beauty product manufacturers, and the media.
So, how do parents navigate these new waters?
Here are some of the things we know.
Access to the Internet
This age-group has almost unfettered access to the internet, cell phones, video, and social media. We’ve never seen anything like it. And wish as we might, it’s not going away.
Kids in this age category have more disposable income than even their slightly older siblings. Therefore, companies want them and their money. Older kids, classified as teens, may have jobs to help them make money. But, they also have cell phone bills, gasoline to pay for, and other expenses for which they are responsible.
Tweens, on the other hand, have money from allowance, birthdays, and family members with little or no financial responsibilities. They are a gold mine for retailers.
Girls are developing earlier. The mean age used to be 11 for development in girls. Today, it’s just shy of nine. Even though their bodies are changing their brains are racing to keep up. Boys in this age range may not be developing as early but they are seeing these changes occur in girls and struggling to keep up.
Clothing, hygiene products, makeup, and even halloween costumes are being marketed to younger and younger kids. And not always age-appropriately either.
The media is now hyper-sexualizing everything. Raunchy reality TV, sexy commercials, racy plot lines, and movies that hold nothing back are the norm.
None of this has happened overnight but it is more in-your-face with the advent of phones, ipads, laptops, and all the apps that go with them. Marketers, entertainers, and corporations see fruit ripe for the picking and a huge bottom line that will fill their coffers. They are going after tweens like never before.
Sometimes, it feels almost impossible to keep up with all of the changes going on around us and our kids. It is often overwhelming. But there is also hope.
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Here’s what we can do about it.
Trying to keep up with all of the challenges facing our tweens is a full-time job. It’s near impossible. But there is one thing we can do day in and day out that will benefit them no matter what they face. Prayer.
We need to pray for them and with them. As we pray for them we can ask the Lord to guide them, protect them, and empower them. As we pray with them they will hear how much we love and care for them. Praying with them is an important part of strengthening our relationships with them as we prepare to send them off into the world.
If you don’t know how or what to pray for, I can help. I’ve created a short list of 90 prayer prompts for parents with tweens and teens. You can get it by signing up for my email list. Please know, I will never sell your email address or spam you. Don’t miss this awesome tool. You can sign up here:
Create strong family cultures
Each family needs to purposefully create a culture that is unique and meaningful for their family unit. When kids know your family culture they know their boundaries. What’s acceptable? What isn’t? What is important to your family? Where can they color outside the lines?
As you create an environment where character matters, trial and error are encouraged, and love is practiced, kids of all ages find a place they feel safe, wanted, and accepted. This also helps tweens filter outside influences accurately. When faced with a new challenge they will be able to give people and ideas a litmus test and see if it fits with your family culture. Then, they will be better equipped to make decisions when you aren’t around. It all starts at home.
The family that rallies around each other finds difficult storms easier to weather. They also create a safe haven for other tweens, a refuge during tough times. That’s the kind of home we all aspire to have, right?
Support one another
Today, parents can’t do it alone. We never could, really. But, with all of the media and advertising out there it is vital that we have a sturdy support group to help us get our kids grown and out on their own without any major incidents.
Find family friends you trust. Find other families you enjoy being with who also have your kids best interest at heart. Be picky. Vet your tween’s friends and their parents. Set rules and boundaries that are in line with your family culture.
Most importantly, accept help. When you find a support network of friends, coaches, pastors, and teachers who are speaking truth and love into your tween’s life, let them help you. At this age, kids need to hear good things said, from people they trust, and in a voice other than yours. It’s just how it is, so make sure you have that network in place so what they are hearing and seeing is positive on all sides.
Get online support through the Real. Fun. Family. Facebook group. You can join here:
Encourage healthy relationships and activities
As your kids enter the tween years they begin to make their own friendships and attachments. They begin to have opinions about what they like to do with their time and talents. They are becoming more independent. Your job as a parent is to encourage relationships and activities that are healthy.
Does your son like soccer? Sign him up for the local league. Does your daughter want to have a movie night with a friend from church? Set it up. Get to know the other girl’s parents. Provide fun snacks and an appropriate movie but then let them watch without hovering.
The more supervised freedom you give your tween the more they will learn to handle themselves when unsupervised. Stay close by so they can ask questions or get reassurance. Then, they will become more confident and ready to make good choices when you aren’t around.
When it comes to social media and the internet, you must be aware. Encourage the use of technology but don’t be afraid to set limits. Look for online outlets that are safe, password protected, and age appropriate. Keep computers and phones out of the bedroom. Ask to sit with them as they surf the web. Your interest will help keep them safe.
Most of us had to learn to navigate the technology waters on our own. But we were also adults. Our tweens have been around technology since birth. They need us to help them discern what is appropriate, what is safe, and when to click away. We can’t leave this to them, we must be a part of the learning process.
I highly recommend the book “Good Pictures Bad Pictures” for talking to your tweens about how to train themselves to flee inappropriate online content. This will be an ongoing discussion but this book is an excellent place to start.
When we encourage what is healthy we help steer them from what is not and we give them clear markers for what to look for in the future: friends, activities, and online opportunities that are safe, healthy, and worthy of their time.
The world is rapidly changing. Our tweens stand the best chance at success when we are involved, interested, and invested in their lives and the world around them. The challenges are huge but we can overcome them by working with our tweens and each other.