Children are growing up faster and faster in today’s world. Many are becoming teenagers around ages 8-12, much younger than the traditional 13 in previous years. Kay Hymowitz cites several examples of such behavior in her essay “Tweens: Ten going on Sixteen.” She writes, “The Toy Manufacturers of America Factbook states that, where once the industry could count on kids between birth and fourteen as their target market, today it is only birth to ten.” She also writes about organizations such as the Girl Scouts, the Nickelodeon television network, and movie studios, that cater to a whole new generation of “tweens,” who are looking for something more sophisticated and want “cool, fresh,” products.
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Why has this drift occurred? Hymowitz, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, and other scholars cite several reasons that “tweens” are the new teens. First is the idea that parents spend less time with children as a result of the new two-working parent household dynamic that has evolved over the past twenty years. As parents work longer hours, kids are left at home for longer amounts of time and occasionally even eat breakfast by themselves.
Parents throw money at them as a substitute for attention and in some cases, as Hymowitz points out, even give them several dollars to buy breakfast on the way to school every day. This results in tweens making their own choices with spending money and having a greater leverage of purchasing power to buy the items that are deemed “cool” in the classrooms. As another result of parents not being aware, girls bring bags of makeup to school and apply mascara and anything they believe will make them look “sexy,” the image they are trying to target. What’s worse is that parents are becoming more pliable and offering less discipline.
A second reason that children are growing up much faster in today’s world is that, due in part to these absentee parents, marketing trends have evolved to target younger children in what Hymowitz calls a “sexualized and glitzy media-driven marketplace.” Recent books like “Strop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank,” by Celia Rivenbank have also addressed the trend. As more provocative clothes hit store shelves, parents have less choice in what to buy for their children. Additionally, media such as television, magazines, and pop music sway this easily-influenced group to keep up with the latest trends in order to avoid being labeled “lame” by fellow students in the halls.
Companies like Jordache Jeans, Bratz dolls, and Nickelodeon magazine, have picked up on this and have begun a new line of provocative advertisements geared towards pre-teens who are constantly monitored and who constantly seek their peers’ approval. The message of these ads is that tweens are now independent consumers, free of Mom and Dad’s tastes, able to pick out what they want for themselves. Through this process, companies are treating tweens like teenagers and, as it turns out, are able to gain much more profit in the process.
In summary, there are two major reasons why children today seem to be growing up faster than ever, and why the new “tween” category, defining children between the ages of 8 and 12, was created as both a sociological and marketing catchphrase and continues to gain leverage. First, absent and weak parents make up for their absenteeism by being more flexible with children and giving them increased spending power. Second, increased teen leverage and a faster turnaround time for trends create more risqué and “cooler” fads. These two events are a large part of the reason why children are growing up much faster than children of ten or twenty years ago.
- Hymowitz, Kay. "Tweens: Ten Going on Sixteen." City-Journal. Fall 1998. The Manhattan Institute.