December 10, 2009 by Sarah Beller
Too Old For Toys, Too Young For Boys
“Too old for toys, too young for boys. “ With two tweens in the White House, and my own youth rapidly spiraling down the drain, it’s probably as good a time as ever to think about tweens. I did some googling (that’s how tweens get their information!), and I’ve learned that the term “tween” describes an 8-13 year old youth who is generally (but not always) female, and is usually pretty into the Jonas Brothers and Bratz dolls. Marketers like Disney began using the term “tween” in the nineties to describe a valuable consumer demographic. Under constant pressure to be kewl, tweens are easily manipulated by marketers who broadcast the notion that buying certain products can create a coherent, acceptable personality, a barrier to shelter that nebulous, fearful inner region from the external scrutiny of one’s peers. Here are some tidbits from urbandictionary on tweens (maybe written by tweens?): “A tween desperately wants to be a teen, but isn't about to stop being a kid. May flirt one minute, but be embarrassed about it the next; usually prefers titillation by proxy. Example: When I was in 4th grade, several of us would gang up on a boy and girl and make them kiss each other for our titillation by proxy.” “Nearly all females in the tween age group use slang such as 'lyk' instead of 'like' 'h8' instead of 'hate', ect.[sic]” I don’t usually use slang such as “lyk,” but I do sometimes look in the mirror and think “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman.” Maybe Gossip Boy does too. Do you guys?
What we talk about when we talk about tweens: One of my favorite parts of any friendship or romantic liaison is the moment when you can talk about uncomfortable moments that occurred early on in the relationship. I sure can’t get enough of making TTH contributor Kate Axelrod recount the story of me “smiling shyly” at her at our neighboring lockers during our freshman year of high school. There’s something so comforting about the idea that you can laugh at what once made you uneasy, and the hope that you’ll continue to learn and change. That’s part of what appeals to me about studying tweens. I like thinking that while I was once a self-doubting, fearful little girl who was convinced that no boy would ever like her and desperate for the approval of her peers, I am now a tough and passionate woman who doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her. I don’t get embarrassed as frequently. I can take myself seriously regardless of the fear that no one else will. But sometimes, of course, I feel like I haven’t moved much beyond middle school: I still feel an ache in my stomach when I see a girl with the kind of soft, straight hair that I know I’ll never have, and I still sometimes accidentally slip into a baby voice when I’m expressing an opinion. Maybe by delving the lives of tweens, I’ll learn something about what we all are now. Maybe I’ll learn what we’re not. Maybe it will just be a guilty-pleasure treat, and give me an excuse to learn new acronyms. Maybe it will be a means of collectively looking back on the raw and distressing moments of our own tween-hood. Also, maybe we’ll realize that kids these days are so weird and we were never like that at all. They do seem a little nutz. There’s something simultaneously grotesque and captivating about tween culture. I hope to explore just what that something is in this forum. Some of my future explorations will hopefully include reviews of young adult books, inspired by Jezebel’s finelines column, interviews with tweens I know, and patches of overheard tween conversation. This last idea came about because I often find myself drawn to tweens on the streets and on the subway and try to listen to their conversations. Here’s some stuff I’ve overheard recently: Two girls in Williamsburg deli, about eleven years old: Girl 1 (to other girl who is inspecting ingredients of a mini Red Bull): That have energy in it? Hey, I said does that have energy in it?? You know mom said we can’t have drinks with energy. Girl 2: Yeah…we get crazy…but maybe just this once? Girl 1, wide-eyed: No, no we can’t. [They leave.] Two girls walking in East Village, about nine years old: Girl 1 to girl 2: Ooooooh I can’t WAIT to get my period! A boy and a girl on the C train, about twelve years old: Girl: Yo, pull your pants over the tongues of your shoes…you look mad retarded. Boy: Well you take off that orange sweater, you look mad old like you TWENTY. [laughs hysterically] To be continued... Please send in any overheard tweentalk, any thoughts on tweens, or any young adult books you want to read and discuss with me! tweentalk(at)takethehandle.com