In 1945, an atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima, effectively putting an end to World War II. Around the same time, another bomb was dropped smack-dab in the middle of the United States—a cultural bomb that spawned the birth of “youth culture.”
Never in the history of our nation had such a distinct and fundamental change to our society occurred. All of a sudden, parents were dealing with a new kind of son and daughter. Kids now had their own kinds of clothes, music, idols and fashions, not to mention vocabularies.
If you were to mention the word “tween” to the average parent or pastor five years ago, you would be met with a blank stare. In my weekly contact with parents and church leaders within the last year, however, I have found the word no longer requires explanation.
But for those who may still be wondering, here’s what it means to be a tween: Some researchers define this coveted market as pre-teens ages 8 to 12. Others stretch the demographic to the age of 14. Whatever the overlap, one thing is clear: Tweens aren’t children, but they’re not yet teens. They truly are “in between,” and parents and churches are feeling the tension—along with the tweens themselves.
So how did this demographic group—which has a very unique set of values and needs—come to be? Just a few years ago, the 12-and-under gang spent $27.9 billion of its own money and influenced $248.7 billion of Mom’s and Dad’s spending in one year alone. This “kid-fluence” is expected to grow between 5 percent and 20 percent in the next 10 years, reports USA Today.
Having the discretionary funds available to support the creation of such a “tween culture” is one of the ways we got here. Poorer cultures can’t afford for kids to be tweens or even teens. In most cultures outside of the Western world, kids transition much sooner into adulthood than their North American counterparts; economic realities demand it.
This generation is growing up fast and faces unique challenges unheard of in prior generations. It’s important we understand them—so we can reach them before they need to be rescued. Let’s take a close look at 3 key trends that define the tween generation.
Tween Trend #1: They’re getting older younger
There’s an insatiable desire within the tween soul to be older, a natural yet dangerous desire when put into the wrong hands. Marketers have had no problem playing on this desire. Madison Avenue has been successful in creating a “commercialized childhood,” promoting a lifestyle the Joneses would have a hard time keeping up with.
Tween Trend #2: They’re getting faster quicker
In the ever-widening world of sports, our kids are raising the bar and lowering the age limit of what is supposed to be possible athletically. USA Today carried the story of New York’s Danny Almonte, a 12 year old who pitched a perfect game at the Little League World Series. The title of the news article says it all: “The Need to Star at 12.”
When it comes to gadgets and techno-toys, many tweens today are techno-wizard multi-taskers. Many of them, as Ann Oldenburg noted in her article “Follow These Familiar Faces” (USA Today), have “more computing power at their fingertips than was used to get Apollo 11 to the moon.”
In an age of “faster quicker,” adults—and parents in particular—are faced with a temptation to “check out” of their kids’ lives, as those same kids leave them behind in the technological dust. It has been said a child will ask 500,000 questions before his or her 13th birthday. It would be wise for parents to ask a few hundred thousand of their own.
Tween Trend #3: They’re getting sadder sooner
Where have the days gone when kids played in the fields and on neighborhood streets without a worry by either them or their parents? Those days are history. Our kids live in an uptight world. Eating disorders are being reported among the 12-and-under gang with increasing frequency. Depression-driven diets are producing an epidemic of tween obesity. Rootless home lives and hierarchical materialistic peer groups spawned in the atmosphere of age segregated school environments have taken a toll on the “sadder sooner” crowd.
In a culture hazardous to the health of our almost-teens, the temptation of adults and parents is to underestimate the value of a healthy home life, an extended family life and a church body life. There is too much at risk nowadays to ignore the importance of these support systems.
In a privilege saturated society such as ours, the temptation for adults and parents is to give our tweens what they want, when they demand it. The wiser choice would be to give them what they need when they need it. Delayed gratification has always been a character builder.
During the Christmas season, we celebrated the incarnation story of Emmanuel—“God with us.” Scripture records the birth of Jesus and the surrounding drama His coming produced. From the birth narratives, the Gospels fast forward us to His baptism by John in the river Jordan, with one exception: the book of Luke, the Gospel that emphasizes the complete humanity of Jesus. Luke 2:41 is where the drama begins. Jesus is now a 12 year old. The Son of God, a tweener. Let that sink in!
His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. On this occasion, Jesus went with them, no doubt preparing for His own official initiation into the community of faith. Jesus was totally taken up by what was going on in Jerusalem and, in particular, in the temple, which He liked to call His Father’s house. That’s where they finally found Him after three days of search and rescue. His response: “Why did you seek me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (see Luke 2:49). Those 17 words are the first recorded words of Jesus in the Bible— and the last seven carry within them the spiritual DNA to reach a generation of tweens today.
“I must be about My Father’s business.”
Mary and Joseph found their son “in the house.” Let’s believe our sons and daughters will also be found “in the house,” in their Father’s house, helping to run the family business. Who says they even have to leave?
Let’s believe the best for our kids. Let’s help them “live the seven”—the seven words of Jesus at 12, when He, too, was a tween.
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