What Are Tweens? Defining the Tween Years for Parents

A unique, descriptive, identifying name is assigned to each stage of life and age group. Tweens are a small group of kids who are often difficult to identify. Tweens are one of the most diverse age groups when it comes to their physical, emotional, and social development.

Defining a Tween

This age group consists of children who no longer want to be called children and aren’t old enough to be considered teens. Tween is a combination of words ‘between’ and ‘teenager,’ the idea being that they are in the middle. 

The average age of tweens varies from source to source, but they are generally defined as children between the ages of 8 and 12. In 2019, there were an estimated 20 million kids in this age group.

Despite the fact that tweens are often referred to as an age group, experts warn against considering them a developmental stage since each child develops differently. As a marketing term, “tween” still serves as more of a marketing tool than a description of this age group.

Cognitive Development

Children’s brain functions change as they grow and mature. At this stage of development, tweens are able to anticipate the consequences of their actions. The result is that they are able to make more informed decisions and develop opinions based on facts and reasoning. 

Teenagers also start to develop empathy, being able to see things from other people’s point of view rather than just their own. Different changes in thinking affect a child’s behavior and actions.

Emotional Development

As tweens move from childhood to adulthood, their capacity to recognize and cope with emotions increases. This age group of kids is more aware of real dangers in the world and places less emphasis on imaginary threats. 

Due to this emotional change, tweens also prioritize the needs of others. It can be scary for some to discover these new feelings, but it is also a time when kids begin to develop their values and morals.

Physical Development

Every child develops at a different rate throughout childhood, so each tween may experience these changes at a different time. Among kids, some develop physically and socially rapidly while others lag behind, which can cause problems with self-identity for those who feel different from their peers.

Typically, girls start puberty earlier than boys, so tween girls will look taller and bigger than boys of the same age. Starting around age 10, girls might notice widening hips, an increase in body fat, increased hair growth in underarms and pubic areas, and the development of breasts. 

In boys, around age 12, you can expect to see increased hair growth, changes in their voice, and a growth in the size of their penis and testicles. At this age, kids can begin to notice each other’s attractiveness and discover desirable or undesirable traits in each other.

Parent-Child Relationships

These developmental changes can have positive or negative effects on a tween’s relationship with their parents and family. Tweens are likely to exhibit the following behaviors:

  • Independence and privacy are becoming increasingly important
  • Family affection is less physical
  • A greater reliance on friendships
  • Answering personal questions with reluctance
  • Taking tips from friends and celebrities on how to dress or act
  • Expression of extreme emotion
  • A greater awareness of social status
  • Interest in group experiences with family or friends

Tween Interests

In this balance between wanting to be a kid and wanting to be an adult, you’ll find kids on both ends of the spectrum. There are those who do not want to grow up, and there are those who cannot move into adolescence quickly enough. Tweens get into all kinds of things because of this.


As with many younger children, tweens spend a lot of their free time watching television and playing video games. Half of all tweenagers have a TV in their bedroom and half have a tablet. For kids between the ages of 9 and 12, these are the main sources of entertainment.

Animation still reigns supreme when it comes to TV shows. According to Netflix reviews, Yu-Gi-Oh, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and Slugterra are the most popular tween shows. In this age group, kids are more likely to watch television or play video games than use social media or mobile games. 

Tweens watch television about two hours a day on average. The preferences of tweens suggest that many of them are still firmly rooted in their childhood.

Online Activity

Even though adults believe kids are getting and using cellphones and social media accounts at a younger age, data shows about 35 percent of tweens watch online videos every day. Approximately 60 percent of tweens prefer watching TV over other activities. Social media platforms, selfies, and parties aren’t yet popular among these kids.

In spite of the immaturity of tweens’ media choices, most parents have talked to them about media use in terms of safety rather than time limits. When it comes to online activities, adults treat tweens more like teens than children.


Tweens still enjoy reading for fun, unlike teens. Tweens are generally required to read for homework about 50 percent of the time. However, tweens are just as likely to read for pleasure as for homework. On average, kids in this age group spend more time reading for pleasure than doing homework. 

In middle grade books, fantasy and humor are popular, but nonfiction topics like bullying can also be included. In Wonder, R.J. Palacio examines social status and bullying, which resonates with tweens’ everyday struggles, while Dog Man by Dav Pilkey is full of immature humor.


Tweens want to express their own style, but not necessarily in teen or adult trends. For both boys and girls, stripes, bright colors, and mixing patterns are popular tween fashion trends in 2017. 

This age group wears colorful pants with patterned tops and backpacks. Kids love this style of primary colors and animal or character graphics because it is more mature.

Another way some tweens try to fit in is by using beauty products or personal hygiene products. Approximately 80 percent of tweens use beauty and personal care products. Half of these kids say they use skin care, haircare, beauty, and fragrance products to boost their confidence. 

The act of owning and wearing these products is viewed as more mature by peers, even if they don’t need them or know how to use them.

The interests of tweens at different stages vary, but many are interested in teen or adult activities, styles, and preferences. In order to be treated like a teen, this type of tweenager wants to look and act more mature. Years ago, tweens were a huge market that spent tons of money on specific items. 

The tween market is disappearing as older kids attempt to blend in with teens. Kids are becoming more mature in their style choices, and they want to move out of the kid’s section.

Stuck in Between

Teenagers aren’t kids anymore, but they’re also not children. There are many kids at this age group who are trying to find their place in the process of growing up. All kids are unique, but tweens share a few common characteristics that come with their age.

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