Girls are getting older, younger

Teen idol Britney Spears was often criticized for her “provocative” style and dances, while her music was geared toward young girls.

Greg, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Teen idol Britney Spears was often criticized for her “provocative” style and dances, while her music was geared toward young girls.

Molly Rawat, Feature Editor

These days, it feels like children are maturing faster than ever before. It seems they are skipping what some call the “awkward phase” and becoming adults before they finish being kids. Many parents begin sentences with, “When I was your age” and follow by explaining what they could not do at their child’s current age. Several older siblings envy their younger ones getting unlimited amounts of screen time or being able to wear makeup when they could not at the same young age. 

It is no surprise that societal standards and cultures shift over generations. With changes in the natural environment, political climate, economy and more come changes in what is considered normal and what is not. One trend that seems to have stayed constant since people began observing it is children maturing faster – or at least acting mature – at a much younger age than previous generations. 

Known as “kids getting older younger,” or KGOY, this phenomenon describes how young kids are getting older faster. In the past, this term has mostly been used in marketing, but with the rise of social media use among young people, the concept is relevant to both marketing and social media. 

When focusing on young girls specifically, this phenomenon is directly related to gender roles and the rise of consumerism. 

Historically, men have been valued for status and the ability to provide necessary material goods for their family, while women have been valued for their physical appearance and ability to bear and take care of children. The source of men’s power versus women’s power are still heavily defined by these arbitrary abilities. 

Men have been socialized to work towards status to be able to desire women, as it leads to  gaining power. Women, on the other hand, have been socialized to focus on their physical appearance in order to be desired, as that leads to gaining power for them. These gender roles are far more complex, but this general assessment of the difference in desire between men and women helps explain why young girls strive to meet the expectations of patriarchal society through their ability to be desired. 

In a capitalist world, companies commodify these modes of desire to profit off of them. Ads for “women’s” shaving razors, makeup, skincare – the list is endless – further emphasized the importance of a woman’s appearance in modern society. 

Technology has accelerated the phenomenon at an alarming rate.

Sociology teacher Trever Zahn emphasized the impact of technology on why kids are “growing up” at an early age. “In looking at my upbringing, social trends took longer to take hold because magazines came out in a more limited format and it wasn’t just posted online, which can happen at a moment’s notice,” he stated, which explains the exponential nature of KGOY.

It may seem contradictory that young girls are pressured to mature faster considering the value society also places on a woman’s youth and youthful appearance. If this is true, why would young girls want to seem older when their charm comes from being young?

The exact reason this phenomenon still exists despite the significance of youthfulness in women when it comes to being romantically or sexually desired is unclear. Perhaps the contrast between a young girl’s mindset and physical body versus the mature things she wears and does is seen as desirable. 

In any case, KGOY among young girls is a phenomenon based on desire. As long as a woman’s worth somewhat relies on how well she can be desired, they will continue to follow trends that make them feel desirable.

It is impossible to trace whether children began acting older than kids of previous generations and industries followed suit by gearing this type of marketing towards young girls or if the marketing itself caused young girls to mature faster. The latter notion is more in line with the sociological understanding of gender roles, as it is society’s values which dictate how people behave. 

Either way, women began to fall victim to these gendered pressures at younger and younger ages as years progressed, leading to many young girls making what have come to be known as “thirst traps” on TikTok, feeling like they cannot leave the house without some makeup on or trying a new fad diet. 

With the rise of social media, especially Instagram and TikTok, this phenomenon seems to have grown exponentially. 

According to a recent study, harassment through direct messages on Instagram shows women are treated on social media platforms – and how the platform barely acted on it. CNN statistics cite that the average age of kids signing up for a social media account is 12.6 years. Young girls are exposed to these strange, unsolicited online interactions in their early adolescence. 

Junior Alexa Schneider commented on these occurrences. “I’ve probably had Instagram since maybe fourth or even third grade. Though I’m not sure how often I might have gotten strange direct messages from random people or men asking to be ‘sugar daddies’ at that age, I noticed how they happened more in middle school and peaked in high school,” she said. “I’m glad that I know better than to respond to those types of messages, but many girls often experience this at a vulnerable age.”

Eighth grader Addison Leiby stated her instances with the issue. “I got added to an Instagram groupchat with an older man and was sent explicit pictures. A guy has unexpectedly sent me an explicit video as well. Though I have been able to block them, it does not make it okay,” she said.

It is unacceptable for women to have to deal with unsolicited interactions on social media all the time, but the situation becomes more concerning when even those as young as 13 years old are involved with them. 

Additionally, when young girls and women see other children and teenagers on platforms like TikTok posting lip-syncing to sexually suggestive audios, wearing “revealing” clothing or just generally exhibiting behavior one may expect from an adult woman rather than a young girl, they may feel that it is normal for them to do the same. 

It is not a matter of whether or not these girls feel confident, beautiful or simply happy posting themselves doing these things but, rather, the fact that their choices do not exist in a vacuum. If the confidence and happiness these girls display comes from the value they place on their physical appearance rather than their intrinsic value as humans, it only reflects the societal importance for women to be desirable. 

And it is not only other young girls who are interacting with this content. Those who thrive off of this are predatory adults and big industries. 

Freshman Priya Suresh noted how people react to the phenomenon differently when it comes to boys versus girls. “When a boy dresses or looks older than they are, they are usually seen as hot or cool, but when a girl does it, they are looked down upon and slut-shamed,” she said.

Young girls are victims, not perpetrators. They are not incapable of making their own decisions, but the pressures society has placed on them has led to the phenomenon of kids getting older younger. As long as the trend continues, kids are not allowed to just be kids.