We talk about children and teens all the time, but what about that group of kids sandwiched in between those age groups? That is the group formerly referred to as pre-teens and currently referred to as tweens. Kids in this age group (11-13) are sort of like middle children -- confused about exactly where they fit in. Usually they reach upwards and try to imitate their older siblings or older role models. Let me tell you what this often leads to. It leads to some concerning tween trends. In their frantic pursuit to emulate teens they engage in some of the following behaviors:
1. I will refer to the first one as FOMO. In the abbreviated vernacular of teens, this means "fear of missing out." Like teens, tweens are becoming more and more plugged into electronic technology because they have this fear of missing out. Missing out on what is going on among their friends, being left out of dialogue, being left out of the loop and not fitting in because they, like many of their peers, may not be checking their messages frequently enough. I was introduced to the term "FOMO" today by a 12-year-old and boy, does it explain a lot.
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2. We have only to look at the tween or pre-teen sections of department stores or specialty boutiques to see that sexier clothing is being made for kids in the 11-13-year-old age group. If that is what their friends are wearing, you can bet that your tween will want to wear the same thing. That, I feel, is a shame. Many of them are still unclear about sexuality and the power of sexuality, yet they are dressing in sexy garb. When I was growing up, I can assure you that sexy clothing was not even a consideration for back-to-school clothing.
3. Tweens, unfortunately, are sadder earlier. I have seen this trend first-hand in my practice, which spans over two decades. Tweens are getting eating disorders at earlier ages and are engaging in self-destructive behavior at their tender young ages. My thought is that they are picking up the habits of their older peers and may be experiencing a level of stress that they are ill-equipped to deal with. This is both sad and unfortunate. It really breaks my heart to witness.
4. These 11-13-year-olds are engaging in sexual behavior earlier. I have been asking my patients the same questions about their sexual activity since I began my practice, and in the past five or so years, they have been providing me with a different set of answers. Yes, I am sorry to say this, but they are engaging in oral sex at younger ages. I am quite sure that in their effort to remain technical virgins, they are unaware of the STDs that are associated with oral sex. Parents and educators must broach this difficult topic and educate their kids. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. I can assure you of that.
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5. When I was a pre-teen I got haircuts, but not in fancy salons. Now, whenever I am getting my hair colored or highlighted there is always a group of tweens and their mothers who are there to get feathers or glitter securely attached to their young daughters' hair. This is not an inexpensive undertaking.
My point is that perhaps our tweens are growing up a bit too quickly and are paying a price for it. There is absolutely nothing wrong -- and perhaps there may be a lot right -- with encouraging them to be kids for just a little longer.