Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Post - Athens, OH
The independent newspaper covering campus and community since 1911.
The Post

The death of the preteen: The disappearance of a demographic

Many viewers scrolling through TikTok in the past few weeks have seen at least one video about 10-year-olds buying products from skincare brands like Drunk Elephant at Sephora. While those jokes are lighthearted, they highlight a glaring issue.

The stage between childhood and the teenage years has faded, leaving children between 9 and 12 without much time to transition. The era of the preteen, or "tween," has disappeared. 

But what happened to the once flourishing demographic? There are a few things to blame. 

The first reason is the lack of media for preteens. The 1990s, 2000s and early 2010s were great times for tween media. Movies for tweens were extremely popular and mass-produced. Films like "The Sandlot" employed humor and some elements that were too mature for young children but deemed childish for older audiences. Thus, they fell directly into the tween demographic, with content palatable for children in their middle school years. 

Another example comes from the book-to-movie adaptation "Bridge to Terabithia." It tells the story of Jess and Leslie, two friends who create an imaginary kingdom. However, Leslie tragically dies at the end, leaving Jesse to deal with the grief of losing a friend. This film was considered too mature for children, but the dark theme of death combined with a lack of explicit content made it perfect for preteens. 

Furthermore, television shows for tweens were extremely prevalent around the end of the 20th and the start of the 21st century. These shows were often serialized, following a plotline while still showing less explicit content and more childish humor. 

TeenNick is a perfect example of that. It started as a programming block on its parent channel, Nickelodeon, before branching into its separate channel. Many of the programs on this were aimed at older kids and young teens, such as "H20: Just Add Water.” It dealt with darker themes of family issues and relationship problems, but nothing that a preteen could not handle. Similarly, other shows like "House of Anubis" had some content that would be considered too scary for younger kids but too childish for older teens, making it just right for a preteen-age child.

However, many of these shows and movies aimed at the tween demographic have disappeared in the past few years. Very few are still being released, eliminating the crucial bridge between children's media and media for teens and adults and exposing preteens to content that is too mature for them. 

Among the few still being released was the series "Julie and the Phantoms," which was aimed at the demographic. The show portrays a teenage girl coping with the loss of her mom and pursuing her dreams in music with the help of a band made up of ghosts. It dealt with themes of grief, the afterlife and queer relationships in a way that was easy for people that age to understand. However, it was canceled after one season, showcasing the turning away from tween media in the television and film industry.

Another example, "Turning Red”, which was released in 2022, was aimed at a tween audience. The main character, Mei, faced the trials and tribulations of puberty and middle school while occasionally turning into a giant red panda.

It had a goofy premise that tackled topics like menstrual cycles and the struggles of growing up, which was another thing that was too mature for young kids but too childish for older kids, making it perfect for preteens. However, the movie was slammed for making the characters too "immature," "childish" and "annoying." The issue here was the characters were simply acting like preteens.

But the lack of media is not the only reason for preteens' disappearance. The deficiency of places for them is also to blame. 

There is a massive lack of "third places" in America. Sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the term, which refers to a place outside of the home (or the first place) and work (the second place). They exist to be a place for socializing and community building. However, many third places in America no longer exist or now cost money (or more money than they previously did). 

There are still some third places. Children have parks and playgrounds. High schoolers and college students have coffee shops and restaurants. Adults have bars and gyms. But what about preteens? Many third places for preteens have become more expensive or more limited. When people in that age range think of places to meet up and hang out, what do they think of? Bowling alleys, arcades, malls. 

Many of these locations are either shutting down or changing dramatically. Bowling alleys have raised their prices to keep up with inflation and the demands of the times. Other places, like arcades, simply do not have enough clientele and have shut down. Malls have also been hit hard, as online shopping has become the main source of consumption. Those changes have eliminated third spaces for preteens, pushing them more into online spaces instead of the outside world with peers their age. 

Also, many of the stores once geared toward tweens have either closed or changed. Justice, a once massive retail chain with preteens as its main demographic, was permanently shut down in 2020. Claire's, another retail chain with the same demographic, filed for bankruptcy in 2018 and closed stores across numerous malls.

There is also an absence of fashion and clothing for preteens, which leaves little to fill in the gap between what a child wears and what an older teenager wears. This is why a massive shift has occurred towards older, more mature fashion and styles for tweens.

But store closings are not solely the reason for the disappearance of tween fashion and clothing. Stores work in tandem with social media to create a perfect storm for the absence of preteen expression. 

Young people are on social media now more than ever. While many platforms require the users to be at least 13 years old, Insider Intelligence found that over 2% of TikTok's user base is 11 years old and younger. While this might seem like a small amount, the app has over one billion users worldwide, which means that it is possible to estimate that roughly 25 million people, aged 11 and younger, are on the app. This means they are exposed to an online culture wildly different from the real world and often made up of older teens and adults. 

After all, many influencers are around that age, and their job title is quite literally to influence. Their platforms also consist of mostly younger audiences, who look to these influencers for fashion and cosmetic tips and other sources of inspiration. 

Stores like American Eagle and Hollister Co. have partnered with TikTok stars like Addison Rae and Charli and Dixie D'Amelio, releasing lines of clothing centered on the TikTok stars. However, these influencers are all in their late teens and early 20s, modeling clothing typically outside the appropriate age range for a preteen. Impressionable tween audiences are inclined to want to look like their favorite TikTok stars and often attempt to emulate these styles. 

Aside from influencers, the explosion of cringe culture has also played a major part in the demographic's disappearance. While behavior deemed "cringe" is nothing new, what constitutes "cringe" has expanded. Many things that younger kids and preteens typically enjoy have been considered "cringy" by older audiences and, as a result, have been shamed and given a negative connotation. 

Take video games like “Minecraft” and “Fortnite,” for example. Both are harmless, fun games for preteens that do not feature mature or explicit content. However, both have taken on a negative connotation in recent times. While shaming people for their interests has been happening for a long time, the anonymity of online spaces has made it much easier and has far fewer consequences. 

Cringe culture also targets people who do not quite fit the status quo. At the tween age, when kids begin to enter the real world, they will figure out how to fit in and adhere to social norms. However, the prevalence of social media and the normalization of shaming people for not fitting a certain look or lifestyle have forced preteens to abandon their interests and lifestyles to fit a more uniform, older one. 


Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2016-2024 The Post, Athens OH