The Problem with “Tweens”

This is a guest post by Deborah Roffman, a sexuality educator and author of the parents’ book, “But How’d I Get in There in the First Place?”  Visit her website.  She wrote this in response to a speaker request I passed along to a listserv we’re both on.  My note included the requestor’s term, “tween,” even though it isn’t a term I normally use. Deborah’s comment on my email, reprinted below with her permission, is a good reminder to take advantage of teachable moments — in this case, by explaning our rationale for avoiding certain terms.

I always urge caution in using and reinforcing the word “tween.” Many people have fallen into the habit of using and passing on the term as if it represents a bonafide developmental stage. In reality it is a cynical marketing niche, composed of 8-14 year olds, who of course have nothing in common developmentally except for money in their pockets and the ability to be coached in manipulating parents to get money out of their pockets.

The message marketers want to give is that what’s good for a 14 year old is fine for an 8 year old. They have been blitzing this age group with adult-oriented products and messages for more than 10 years and have eroded the understanding that development occurs in a series of unique qualitatively different developmental stages, not in a smooth curve.

My experience in working with parents is that many have bought into this thinking, literally and figuratively, and it has very negatively impacted their ability to set age-appropriate limits in children’s lives.

Update:  Good Morning America ran a piece today on GeoGirl makeup, a new product line being sold by Wal-Mart. Targeted at girls 8-12, the line includes not only makeup but also exfoliator and other products normally reserved for adult women. The line is meant to “fill the gap” that was left when the Olsen twins ended production of their line. A mother interviewed for the piece inadvertently illustrated the skewed thinking behind these products. As her prepubescent daughter rested on a spa table being slathered with facial products, the mother said, “Massage and facials are things that I do for hygiene, and I want to my girls to start taking care of themselves early.”  Hmmmm.  Perhaps taking care of themselves could include enjoying their natural, fresh-faced looks?