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Field Guide to the Common Tween

  • Who is that strange creature down the hall? She looks a bit like your little girl, but treat her like one at your own peril! Life with a tween is oh-so-complicated. Our insider's guide dissects their moods and 'tudes, so you can all coexist (somewhat) peacefully for the next few years.

    The Pop Queen-Ager

    (Hannibus montanibus)

    Usually female, although the species is also populated by sensitive males, who invariably star in the school play. Disgust is a common call, which conforms to the Pop Queen-Ager's vocal ability to make every sentence a question: "Um, eww?"

    On their iPods: Justin Bieber (though she may pretend not to like him), Miranda Cosgrove, Selena Gomez

    Can be found: Lip-synching in front of the mirror (will slam door with a howl of outrage if spotted), feverishly pawing through the latest issue of J-14 magazine, doodling the name Taylor Lautner all over her notebooks.

    Plumage: This species tends toward early adoption of makeup and clothes suited for a more mature audience.

    May evolve into: Teenager who claims she never, ever listened to Miley Cyrus.

  • The Twony Hawk

    (Rattus skatoris)

    A hybrid species, made up of child, board, and wheels, Twonies are equal parts cool kid and athlete. Predominantly male, Twonies are perpetually in motion, even when standing "still." Call is peppered with nearly indecipherable slang, but all Twonies affect a California accent, no matter where they roost.

    On their iPods: Vampire Weekend, Jay-Z, Gorillaz

    Can be found: In urban or suburban parks and culverts, and on sidewalks.

    Plumage: Hoodies and T-shirts (cool), skinny jeans (cooler), and shorts (coolest of all -- especially if it's freezing out).

    May evolve into: Surfers, snowboarders, or extreme cyclists. Twonies who tend toward coolness rather than athleticism will play guitar in a band and never be without a beautiful girlfriend.

  • The Green-Ager

    (Organicus recyclicans)

    A condescending species whose typical song is a lecture about the dangers of commercially produced foodstuffs, the Green-Ager enjoys berating its parents for failing to install solar paneling and ordering siblings to turn off the tap while brushing teeth, and has a marked fondness for soy in all forms.

    On their iPods: Green Day

    Can be found: Separating plastic from paper, volunteering at the animal shelter, and reading food labels.

    Plumage: Nothing leather, mass-produced, bleached, or (gasp!) furry. All soaps and cosmetics must, of course, be cruelty-free. Female Green-Agers won't shave their legs or armpits (not that you can really tell, at this age).

    May evolve into: Activists, vegans, PETA members.

  • The Tweenerd

    (Kickibus meus)

    Tweenerds are profoundly indifferent to musical, cultural, and cosmetic trends. Mercilessly teased by peers, but with thick enough skin to take it.

    On their iPods: What's an iPod?

    Can be found: In the front row of the bus or lugging trombones to band practice. Often in flocks, guffawing on their way to yearbook meetings.

    Plumage: It's all just ever-so-slightly wrong: pants are too short or too loose, socks are pulled up, shirts have unfortunate stains, hair is greasy, toilet paper may be stuck to a shoe.

    May evolve into: Tweenerds who stay the course may go on to rule the world (think Bill Gates, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton) or they may molt dramatically in high school and leave their nerdy ways behind.

  • The Go Team-Ager

    (Varsiti multiformi)

    A migratory species, moving from soccer field to basketball court to baseball diamond according to the season. Calls vary greatly: On the field, Go Team-Agers shriek "I'm open!" "Good cut!" "Way to be!" At home it's "Where's my mitt?" "I need my hair band!" "We're late!"

    On their iPods: Smash Mouth ("All Star") and Queen ("We Are the Champions")

    Plumage: A constantly misplaced array of jerseys, socks, shin guards, mouth guards, water bottles, and cleats. When not actually playing a sport, they live in gym shorts, wind pants, and pro-team jerseys. Go Team-Agers create more laundry than any other species.

    Can be found: In front of SportsCenter with a bowl of Wheaties every morning.

    May evolve into: A better student than you'd guess (it's the competition, silly).

  • The Unseen-Ager

    (Surlii maximus)

    Precociously angst-ridden, this species is best identified by unremitting disgust with parents. Typical calls include "Oh my God, you are so embarrassing" and "Do you have to breathe like that?" Unseen-Agers chattering happily with peers will fall silent if an adult approaches.

    On their iPods: Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Lil Wayne

    Can be found: Sulking, rolling eyes, walking ten feet behind parents, in their room with door firmly closed. Their true preferred habitat: away from you.

    Plumage: Hoodies pulled way over faces, hair in eyes, headphones firmly clamped to ears at all times.

    May evolve into: Some distance now may mean your child is ready to snap back by high school, when other kids are just starting to sneer at their parents.

  • The Late to Wean-Ager

    (Infantus clueless)

    A sometimes solitary species, the Late to Wean-Ager doesn't mind hanging around slightly younger kids and prefers the best friend she's had since preschool to newer classmates.

    On their iPods:High School Musical

    Can be found: Playing with things other kids have outgrown: stuffed animals, dolls, Bionicles, or on Webkinz.

    Plumage: Male Late to Wean-Agers are content in tighty-whities long after their peers move on to boxers; females still squeeze into their American Girl doll look-alike outfits. Both sexes are immune to the multimillion-dollar ad industry aimed at them, remaining content to wear whatever Mom buys.

    May evolve into: A well-adjusted kid -- with a little judicious aid in choosing clothing and making friends.

  • The Mean-Ager

    (Nastii makefunovus)

    Difficult if not impossible for grown-ups to spot, Mean-Agers are best identified by peers they've ostracized or victimized. Their excellent camouflage skills let them pass for Squeaky Clean-Agers around parents or teachers, with whom they are invariably polite and charming.

    On their iPods: Ke$ha, Lady Gaga

    Can be found: Hanging at the mall, school sports events, the hottest movies.

    Plumage: Mean-Agers are impeccably dressed, with long, shiny hair, perfect smiles and figures, and expensive designer accessories. They're the ones with the perfect white T-shirt that somehow makes everyone else's white T-shirt seem horribly, shamefully wrong.

    May evolve into: The really Mean-Ager if you don't squash nasty behavior. Watch this species when it flocks in groups.

  • The Squeaky Clean-Ager

    (Perfectus impeccabilis)

    A delightful species that's usually native to other parents' homes, the Squeaky Clean-Ager is mature, responsible, polite, and attractively clad. Its call is a chipper "Of course, Mom!"

    On their iPods: Taylor Swift and the Jonas Brothers

    Can be found: Unloading the dishwasher, helping siblings, on the honor roll, and with hand eagerly raised.

    Plumage: Both sexes favor grandmother-pleasing clothing, shiny hair, and attractive footwear (They still believe you when you say that Target clothes are almost like Hollister and a much better value!) Males never look like fools with their pants on the ground.

    May evolve into: Student body president, National Merit Scholar, and high school valedictorian.

  • The Dark-Ager

    (Gothicus gothicus)

    Despite the Dark-Ager's somewhat fear-some appearance, this species's song is soft, pensive, and a tad overwrought; they don't call it "Emo" for nothing. Females are never without their dog-eared copies of the Twilight series.

    On their iPods: HIM, My Chemical Romance

    Can be found: Exclusively in flocks and shopping at Hot Topic.

    Plumage: A study in contrasts: skin is pale, clothing is dark, nail polish is black, and jewelry is always silver. Those with permissive parents may experiment with hair color. A jaded expression is common.

    May evolve into: Artsy or theatrical types, though parents often worry that Dark-Agers will morph into even more sinister adolescents.