Childhood Studies Tweens
by
Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0189

Introduction

One of the first usages of the term tweens was in the late 1990s referring to children who are in the liminal space between childhood and adolescence. In other words, these children are in a state of “in between.” The culture of tweens originally emerged as a marketing niche directed at preteen girls. One of the first usages of the term was in a 1987 article in Marketing and Media Decisions. The term was used to describe a market of children between the ages of 9 and 15. The actual age range of tweens varies according to the different standpoints of those who define the term and the specific audience to which a product is targeted. The common consensus is that tweens are between the ages of 8 and 12; however, the term has also included children of 7 to 15 years of age. Although the market for tweens have included both boys and girls—and although the word can be used to include boys—the term tween or tweens has increasingly been used to refer to girls who are in the threshold between girlhood and teenagehood. Previous to the emergence of this term, children who were no longer children were categorized as adolescents. In the 1960s this category was better known as the “subteen,” and also known as the “preteen,” referring mostly to girls from the age range of 9 to 12. In addition to being an often female-oriented category, the subteen or preteen was also thought of as a white and middle-class heterosexual subject. The present usage of the term goes beyond marketing purposes to inscribe the tween or tween as a developmental category. Therefore, this article includes sources of scholarship about tweens from various standpoints: girlhood studies, childhood studies, marketing, and education. This variety of scholarship offers wide and in-depth looks at the construction of the tween as its own category that is separate from a child and from a teenager. The article also offers sources such as media produced by children, including tweens, documentaries about the tween, and journals and associations in which the study of tweens is part of the scope. Finally, this article offers a sample of guidebooks for parents, caretakers, and tweens that present advice for getting through the “tweenage” years.

General Overviews

Much of the scholarship about tweens can be found within the scopes of childhood and girlhood studies. However, important works have set out to focus on tweens more deeply and to examine their place in the context of gender studies and media studies. McRobbie 2000 is one of the most-cited works in the study of young girls as it presents groundbreaking research about girls’ cultures and subcultures. Articles such as Cook and Kaiser 2004 and Hall 1987 offer a look at the tween as a term developed to market products and ideas to a “new” niche. The former highlights three dimensions to the preteen age subdivision: the subteen, which was the trade term used from the 1940s to the 1970s; the tween, which refers to the age range in general; and tween, the term that emerged as a social construction from commercial discourse in the 1990s. Hymowitz 1998, Phillips 1999, and Wingert 1999 present profiles on the tweens and their rise into popular culture. These profiles are included because they offer accessible and brief overviews about who tweens are. Coulter 2014 and MacDonald 2016 expand on the genesis of the tween within media, marketing, and consumer culture, while also uncovering the roles of tweens in media culture. While tweens are often studied within the umbrella of girlhood, Mitchell and Reid-Walsh 2005 offers scholarship focused on the tween as its own entity.

  • Cook, Daniel, and Susan Kaiser. “Betwixt and Be Tween: Age Ambiguity and the Sexualization of the Female Consuming Subject.” Journal of Consumer Culture 4.2 (2004): 203–227.

    DOI: 10.1177/1469540504043682E-mail Citation »

    Through the study of trade discourses from the children’s clothing industry since the 1940s, interviews with children, and experts in children’s marketing, the authors argue that the tween cannot be separated from its inception within market exigencies of childhood. It focuses specifically on girlhood and how the tween has been constructed and maintained as a marketing category, a “female consuming subject” that is mostly white, middle or upper middle class, and heterosexual.

  • Coulter, Natalie. Tweening the Girl: The Crystallization of the Tween Market (Mediated Youth). New York: Peter Lang, 2014.

    DOI: 10.3726/978-1-4539-1244-7E-mail Citation »

    Coulter offers a historical mapping of the tween, challenging the common assumption that the tween market was conceived in the 1990s. Through textual analysis of trade publications, this book traces the beginnings of the tween as a separate market demographic back to the 1980s. The book also challenges the notion of the tween girl as passive consumer compared to the tween boy, who is mostly referred to as user (of media).

  • Hall, Carol. “Tween Power: Youth’s Middle Tier Comes of Age.” Marketing and Media Decisions (1987): 56–62.

    E-mail Citation »

    In most of the literature about tweens this article is cited as the place where the term tween was first used. It originated the concept of the tween as a marketing niche.

  • Hymowitz, Kay S. “Tweens: Ten Going on Sixteen.” City Journal (Autumn 1998).

    E-mail Citation »

    Focuses on the rapid changes tweens experience moving from childhood into teenhood. Presents concerns about sexualization, drugs, and eating disorders among this demographic.

  • MacDonald, Fiona. Childhood and Tween Girl Culture: Family, Media and Locality. Studies in Childhood and Youth. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

    DOI: 10.1057/978-1-137-55130-6E-mail Citation »

    The most recently published overview of the tween. This book examines how conceptualizations of childhood are affected by a growing consumer-media culture. MacDonald explores the concept of the tween in relation to media and the messages it relays to them. Eight chapters trace tweens’ position and roles in culture and explore how tweens’ consumption relates to their desires for independence.

  • McRobbie, Angela. Feminism and Youth Culture: From “Jackie” to “Just Seventeen.” Youth Questions. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000.

    E-mail Citation »

    Originally published in 1991. McRobbie presents nine chapters about young girls’ lives, cultures, and interests. The main goal of her research was to provide a voice for girls. The book examines girls’ own stories about their perception of the world of school, home, and the family, and the pressures to follow gender expectations. Referring to them as “pre-teens” McRobbie includes examinations of cultural practices of tweens.

  • Mitchell, Claudia, and Jacqueline Reid-Walsh, eds. Seven Going on Seventeen: Tween Studies in the Culture of Girlhood. New York: Peter Lang, 2005.

    E-mail Citation »

    One of the first books devoted to the study of the tween, this collection of essays by authors from various countries emphasizes methodologies for studying and working with tweens, specifically girls. It examines the tweenage years as a phase that is not delineated only by marketing, but rather presents important implications for the study of girlhood.

  • Phillips, Debra. “Tween Beat.” Entrepreneur (September 1999).

    E-mail Citation »

    Written for a general audience—mostly parents—it showcases various aspects of the tween. It pays attention to tweens’ powerful presence and influence in the market, their technological capacities, and the popular culture for tweens.

  • Wingert, Pat. “The Truth about Tweens.” Newsweek (18 October 1999): 62.

    E-mail Citation »

    In this profile, Wingert describes some of the characteristics of tween girls and boys. A major highlight is efforts by tweens to look and act older in public while still being children in private. Also emphasizes differences in expectations for tweens in different generations and the pressures tweens experience in the present.

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