Opinion | Social media is eliminating the awkward pre-teen years

By Livia LaMarca, Staff Columnist

There is not enough money in the world that could convince me to go back to my pre-teen and middle school years. It was a time full of growing pains, smelly children, hair growing in weird, unexpected spots and just being irrevocably mad at the world. Some of my most mortifying memories take place between the ages of 11 and 14, and all I have to say is — thank God I am done with all of that.

The true awkward phases are behind me, for the most part — even if I’m still pretty awkward now, I’d like to think that I have changed. I’ve matured, found my own style and even have a bit of confidence when talking to strangers. I don’t think 12-year-old Livia would have ever imagined that I could feel or look the way I do now.

However, like most people my age, I’ve noticed a shift in the younger generations that has left me feeling infuriated and almost jealous. Why do these younger children look so much different than I did at their age? In middle school I rocked sequined t-shirts, ill-fitting jeans and bright neon Skechers. I was definitely no fashion icon, but what I wore wasn’t all that much different than what my classmates and peers wore at the time.

Now it seems like younger children are wearing clothes that I didn’t have the confidence to wear until my senior year of high school. The outfit I see the average college student wearing is the look the middle school girl wears to her recess period. This new pre-teen style consists of crop tops, ripped skinny jeans and makeup more complicated than I’ll ever know how to do.

While I’m a firm advocate for people being allowed to wear whatever they want and feel comfortable in, I have to know why middle schoolers are acting and dressing on par with young adults, most of whom experienced the same horrendous pre-teen years that I did. Thanks to extreme access to, and scope of, social media — and therefore information — the once-awkward preteens are now looking older, dressing older and thinking older.

I grew up alongside social media and technology, but as I aged, social media evolved at the same time. Young teenagers in the 2020s are participating in social media as we know it today — they are more ingrained in the current trends of young adults than me or anybody my age ever was in the 2010s. Before, preteens had little to no access to learn what young adults and older teenagers were doing. But now, they’re one click away from any influencer’s feed and often mature content.

Around one in three TikTok users are under the age of 14, meaning they can easily digest content meant for adults. In my own experience, it’s very easy to come across extremely mature content on the site, and the algorithm often shows similar content after a single like. Seeing the way that young adults and older teenagers look seems to make younger individuals feel as though they have to look and act the same way to appear older, cooler and fit in better.

Influencers such as Charli D’Amelio and Addison Rae work with brands to create clothing more appropriate for highschoolers, when a large portion of their audiences are susceptible children who are willing to buy whatever their favorite influencers tell them to. In fact, about 30% of young girls’ clothing available online has become overtly sexualized according to one psychology study.

While brands and media used to cater advertisements specifically to a preteen audience, they’ve now expanded their advertising to reach increasingly younger people. In doing so, pre-teens are forced to grow up and “fit in” with those significantly older than them. If you can skip over the dreaded awful years, then by all means, do so, but middle schoolers should never be mistaken for 20-somethings, nor should they want to fit in with those my age.

Adhering to what the “cooler older teens” are into doesn’t benefit preteens. Those awkward years are supposed to be a time of self-discovery and growth — finding your own style, your own friends and your own interests. Without this knowledge, you will continue to be confused later on in life. Self-identity ebbs and flows over the course of a lifetime, but this period of life is the true beginning of this process.

I would never wish that anybody has to go through the same mental and physical turmoil so many people, including myself, had to go through between the ages of 11 and 14. I think it’s time we say goodbye to the stereotypical preteen years and accept that access to social media and technology has educated pre-teens and helped remove some of the embarrassment that comes from those formidable years. 

However, skipping some pre-teen embarrasment might come at the cost of young people discovering where their own interests truly lie.

Livia LaMarca mostly writes about American politics and pop culture. Write to her at [email protected].