Fake It ‘Til You Make It: Talking to a TweenBecky Flaum

You don't know who Austin Mahone is?!

Tweens scare me. Are they kids or teenagers? Do I offer them a juice box or a Red Bull? I want to know! My niece and nephew are both 10 years old and I don’t know what they like. When they were little, I would make them mixed CD’s of the music that was cool and also older music that everyone should know (The Beatles, Elvis, Led Zeppelin, edited Jay-Z). But now they are old enough to have their own opinions and won’t let me tell them what to like.

So what do they like? And more importantly, what do you say to a tween? Whether you are a mom with a tweenager, you have cousins, nieces, nephews or regularly babysit a tween, you’ve got to know how to talk to them. Look, they aren’t kids and they will resent being talked to like a kid, but I mean, you aren’t going to talk to them about Syria or Obamacare. Well, you can, but chances are it won’t be your opener.

The best thing to remember when talking to a tween is to not ask too many questions and for God’s sake stay away from school, they don’t want to talk about that with you. So make a statement about something they know about. Tweens have passion, they will absolutely HATE or LOVE what you say and then, you’ve got a conversation going.

You: The One Direction movie looks good…

Tween: OH MY GOD! I LOOOVE LIAM! HE’S AMAAAAZING!!! or I HATE THEM! THEY ARE SO OVER! THE WANTED IS THE BEST!

Like I said, tweens are passionate. After you get a little information from that statement, THEN and only then can you ask a question.

Before you get into the precarious world of tween conversation, let’s get inside their heads a bit.

THE BASICS

What’s a tween anyway? Your cousin that’s 11, your boyfriend’s sister that is 12. It is a human that is beTWEEN the ages of 10 and 12. Personally, I’d add 13 into that mix too, but as you might remember from being 13, it is a tricky age to figure out.

I hate to sound old, but their world is pretty different then when you were a tween. First of all, you were probably never a tween if you’re over 25. The term “tween” is a modern marketing term, specifically for the females of the 10-12 age bracket.

The actual word “tween” was coined by J.R.R. Tolkien of “Lord of the Rings” fame. He defined it as “the irresponsible twenties between childhood and coming of age at thirty-three.” So technically, a lot of us are still tweens.

Basically, they show a lot of traits of teenagers (changing bodies, budding interest in dating) but one of the key teenage traits they lack right now is the need for rebellion to be different. Most tweens are conformists, which is why they are marketed at so hard with products and media. Sometimes to appalling results.

A warning: the difficulty in faking it with a tween is that they lack the adult ability to know that unspoken social agreement between adults allowing someone to fake it a bit. I live my life banking on that unspoken agreement. Tweens don’t know about that agreement and honestly, even if they did, I still think they’d call your bluff. So when you mention One Direction….KNOW about it. They will want to talk about it.

With that in mind, let’s find out who has successfully won over the tween demographic.

WHO’S WHO

You can’t own a computer, cell phone, radio or TV without knowing about Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, One Direction and Bieber. Although my sources say that Bieber is out….Taylor Swift is in right now. But I’ll guarantee you that the tweens knew who all these people were before you. So we’ll look at the up and comers, the Biebers and TSwifts of tomorrow. Remember that the younger tweens are still watching Disney, so that future Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears or Ryan Gosling is probably on their radar.

Austin Mahone: Musician. He’s called “the second coming of Justin Bieber”. Mahone was discovered, like the Biebs, on Youtube. He was called up to the big leagues and signed with a label in 2012 and then went on tour with Taylor Swift. His fans are called Mahomies. He might be on your radar as the winner of MTV’s Artist to Watch Award when you were like “who are these people?”

Shailene Woodley: Actress. You know her from her Golden Globe nominated performance as George Clooney’s daughter in “The Descendants”. The tweens know her as the star of ABC Family’s hit series “The Secret Life of the American Teenager”. And they are about to know her as the star the movie versions of BOTH hit book series “The Divergent” and “The Fault in Our Stars”. She might not be on the radar of your 10 or 11 year old, but your 12 and 13 year olds probably know her.

Debby Ryan: Actress. Star of the Disney Channel series “Jessie”. I mention her because this is a huge show for tween girls and according to my nephew, my niece “won’t stop watching it”.

R5: Band. R5 is made up of the four Lynch brothers and another guy. They all have names that begin with the letter R….and there are 5 of them. Their most notable members are Ross, who stars in the Disney Channel hit series “Austin and Alley” and Riker who is on “Glee”. The brothers actually first started as a dance crew in 2010 on “So You Think You Can Dance”.

Zendaya Coleman: Actress/Musician. She is also known as simply Zendaya. The tweens know her from her role as Rocky Blue on the huge Disney show “Shake It Up”. You are about to know her as a contestant on the 16th season of “Dancing With the Stars”. She also has a budding career as a musician and is topping the Radio Disney charts with her pop song “Replay”.

Zendaya at the Kid's Choice Awards

Zendaya at the Kid’s Choice Awards

Cody Simpson: Musician. Another Youtube discovery, this Australian teen dream tours many malls and fairs. His first single back in 2010 was with Flo-rida though, so he’s got a little street cred. He’s high up on the Radio Disney charts though. Plus, now he’s got the same manager as Justin Bieber. So it is only a matter of time before hoards rabid tween girls salivate over him.

Ansel Elgort: Actor. Like Shailene Woodley, he has found himself as the star of both “The Divergent” series and “The Fault in Our Stars”. 2014 is going to be all about Ansel and Shailene.

Madison Beer: Future Carlie Rae Jepson alert! 14 year old Beer was “discovered” by Justin Bieber, not unlike Ms. Jepson. Her hit song “Melodies” is poised to take over your radio and your brain soon. Chances are, if you’ve got a tween in your life, it already has.

GLOSSARY

What the hell are they saying? So with tweens it isn’t so much WHAT they are saying it is what they are saying it ABOUT. As far as lingo, just abbreviate everything. Even if you think it sounds ridic. You will be totes adorbs with your abbrevs. Let’s talk about what you can talk to your tween about.

Instagram: A lot of tweens aren’t on Facebook or Twitter because they aren’t old enough, so they post photos on Instagram constantly. And what are they posting photos of? ANYTHING. They ask to go places just so they can take a picture of the sign and post it in the hopes of getting a “shout out”. Gaining followers is very very important to them, its an obsession. And like your ex-college roommate who seems to always be brunching, they take pictures of their food too. Only it isn’t a meal at an exclusive restaurant, it is yogurt or the new flavor of toaster strudel their mom got. Honestly, take a selfie with a tween and her food and you guys will be BFF’s (yes, they still say that).

#yum Instagramed yogurt, a staple of the tween's diet

#yum Instagramed yogurt, a staple of the tween’s diet

Youtube : Notice how many of the stars mentioned above were discovered on Youtube? That is where all the stars of tomorrow are lurking and your tween is searching for them. They watch Youtube like it is regular TV. My niece is really into a group called Cimorelli right now. They mainly do covers of pop songs, but most of their videos have over 200,000 hits and they have no album out. There are also Youtube phenoms Lennon and Maisy Stella. The other big thing on Youtube is what we all love, people getting injured and making fools of themselves. If you can show your tween (especially a boy) a hilarious video of someone falling, you’re golden.

Sports: Speaking of the boys, make one knowledgeable comment about your local sports team or whatever his team/sport of choice is and you guys will be best friends. Honestly, boys are that simple at that age.

Video Games: If it isn’t a sport they like chances are the boys (or girls) love a video game. So if you can drop Madden or Mortal Combat into conversation, you will score big.

TAGLINES

Remember the first time you heard your mom say “rad” or “OMG”? Here are a few choice sentences that you can say and not make your tween die of embarrassment. The goal is to start and maintain a conversation, so these are good openers.

“Oh! Check out the selfie Shailene just posted on the set of “The Divergent”! Do you follow her?”

“Did you hear Austin Mahone’s new song?”

“I bet I could beat you at Madden/Mortal Combat/insert video game.”

“I’m not sure I’m so into One D anymore.”

FOR MORE INFO

Wanna really get inside the tween mind? Check out these books, movies, and websites to get the 411 (they don’t say that anymore….did they ever? Ugh….this whole thing has made me feel so old.) Most of this stuff is what they are reading/watching now, but films like “Bully” are a must see to understand the issues facing them.

Books: “The Divergent Trilogy” by Veronica Roth, “The Fault In Our Stars” by John Green, “The Symptoms of My Insanity” by Mindy Raf

Movies: “Camp Rock 1 and 2″ , “One Direction: This is Us”, “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones”, “Bully”.

Websites: Instagram, Youtube (seriously, I can’t emphasis their love for both of these things enough) Girl’s Life , The Do Not Enter Diaries, We Heart It

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  1. Glad I could help you guys retain a little coolness. I’ll let you know how I fare with my niece and nephew….

  2. This made me feel SO OLD! I think my 10 year old brother will think I’m way cooler though… Love these posts, Becky :)

  3. Finally, I can converse with my niece. Thanks Becky!

  4. You neglected to mention whatever you say whizz in one ear and splats against the opposite wall.