Most people born before 2000 have experienced an awkward preteen phase. While the life period itself is hard for some to reflect on, it leaves a huge impact on many people. It’s a time where young teens have the chance to find out who they are. With the normalization of social media exposure, younger kids see what everybody years older than them is doing and kids are mimicking the behavior of post-teen internet personalities.
The awkward phase usually occurs in young preteens. It entails going through wacky makeup phases, fashion choices, and special interests. Many young adults can look back and remember the “cringy” things they used to do when going through this phase that shaped them into the person they are today. Something that brought memories of that awkward teen phase to adults later in life is the 2022 Pixar movie “Turning Red,” where the main character and her friends are seen living through their childhood fangirling over boy bands, wearing things intended for kids, and overall just being the textbook definition of a kid.
Now, on apps like Tiktok and Instagram, older social media influencers and celebrities post their trends for the world to see and follow, but it’s not just influencing their older fan base. The young followers feel the need to adhere to the standards set in place for adults.
“When I was growing up Myspace was the biggest social media, and we weren’t really comparing ourselves to other people on there,” said Sydney Winbush, who is an actress with over 300,000 followers on the social media platform TikTok.
Winbush explained how as a preteen she was able to experience her childhood without the influence of older adults. Now she notices 13-year-olds comparing themselves to 30-year-olds. “Everybody is skipping the blue eyeshadow and pink lip gloss phase,” she said.
Kids are now exposed to seeing young adults posting on social media. Provocative trends on TikTok and lots of attention towards suggestive photos on Instagram pressure those kids to fit beauty standards geared towards adults. This results in society losing that crucial awkward phase and instead watching young teens present themselves the same way as someone much older.
One example of this is Jenny Popach, a 15-year-old TikToker with over 6 million followers. Other popular TikTokers like Noah Glenn Carter have voiced their concern with Popach’s social media presence and alleged that her parents enable her oversexualized content on TikTok. As a result of this, she has suffered from predatory behavior on her social media platforms.
“Now it’s cool to be provocative on social media. You see preteens in their bikinis doing suggestive dances. It’s so uncomfortable,” Winbush said. “Social media is definitely playing a role in how fast kids are growing up these days.”
Another reason that preteens today are growing up too fast is the overabundance of adult influencers. There is a lack of child influencers sharing child-appropriate things with a young, impressionable audience. Even the relatively young influencers who go viral on social media are presenting themselves in ways that are more appropriate for adults.
“A lot of my peers have talked about it, but with every generation, there is something we are running towards,” Winbush said. “We were all trying to grow up super fast too, I think that’s just common. Right now, it’s just on social media so everyone can see it.” With the lack of an awkward phase causing concerns for the older generations, people are left with the question, “what can we do?” in order to show kids that it’s okay to be a child.