MED Magazine - Issue 13 - November 2003

New word of the month
by Kerry Maxwell

kidult noun [C]
1. a teenager who behaves and dresses like an adult
2. a middle-aged person who enjoys activities normally associated with children and younger adults

kidult adjective
appealing to both children and adults

'However, he's not 15. He's 35. The Kidult, the teenager who aspired to own adult products, has grown up at last '
(The Observer, 23rd July 2000)

'In the 50s, a couple of 48-year-olds were likely to be grandparents settling towards tweeds and bridge. These days, it would not be unusual to find the man in jeans and the woman pregnant. The advertising industry invented the term "kidult" to describe these age-deniers.'
(The Guardian, 17th June 2000)

'Two of her kidult designs here are a sofa made of modular blocks that can be reconfigured into a kiddies' den '
(The Observer, 2nd March 2003)

In the society of the twenty-first century the strict divisions between childhood, youth and adulthood are gradually becoming eroded. Children want to look like adults, and adults want to deny middle age and continue to adopt youthful attitudes. It is therefore no surprise that in the context of such issues a whole new set of demographic terminology has emerged, as summarised by the following citation from The Independent:

'In a society which values youth above all else, we are constantly trying to invent new buzz words – middlescent, kidult, middle youth in our attempts to analyse and understand the strange world of modern adulthood.'
(The Independent on Sunday, 6th August 2000)

The term kidult is used from two perspectives. On the one hand, it refers to the young teenager who aspires to own and wear the things which in previous generations were restricted to an adult domain. On the other, it describes the middle-aged person who refuses to be denied the freedom and pleasures of youth. At the intersection of these two perspectives is the use of kidult as an adjective, describing things which will appeal to both adults and children. Popularisation of this adjective is linked to the idea of so-called 'crossover marketing', releasing products of kidult design which have appeal across the generations, as illustrated by the third citation above. Crossover culture has in recent years been a key concept in manufacturing and the media, illustrated by the popularity of Playstations, 'Hello Kitty' handbags and the immense success of films like Shrek, Monsters, Inc. and Chicken Run.

The first sense of kidult, that of the child aspiring to adulthood, appeared before the second sense, but it is this latter sense, the approaching-middle-age-but-youthful adult, that has predominated over recent years, presumably fuelled by marketing interest in this group as potential consumers. An alternative term also in recent use is adultescent, describing twenty- to thirty-five-year-olds who refuse to accept the responsibilities of work and family normally associated with their age group, preferring to party on into middle age!

Some argue that there is a distinction between individuals referred to as adultescents and people characterised by another recent demographic buzz word – middle youth. Middle youths are arguably a generation ahead of adultescents. They are people who in their late thirties, forties, and even fifties, fiercely resist the stereotypes of appearance and behaviour associated with middle-age. Their state of mind is often referred to as middlescence, a youthful outlook and approach to life despite increasing years. The derivative middlescent is also used to describe individuals in this category.

A further generation ahead of middle youths are those ageing adults who are in search of so-called permayouth. Permayouth is a term recently coined by Dr Eileen Bradbury, a British consultant psychiatrist who works in an advisory role in plastic surgery. Dr Bradbury uses the term with cautionary overtones to describe an increasing obsession in older generations with maintaining youthful looks, and warns of the addictive effects:

'There can be an element of addiction. The more they do it, the more they have to do it, and it feeds on itself Permayouth is an inability to face ageing, and you're constantly trying to restore the difference between how you look and how you feel you should look.'
(Dr Eileen Bradbury, as quoted in The Observer, 7th April 2002)

At the other end of the age spectrum is the tweenager. Though its earliest use dates back to the 1950s, the term tweenager has also been propagated by the classification of consumer groups during more recent years. It describes children between the ages of eight and twelve who no longer want to play with soft toys and Lego but aspire to the tastes of their teenage counterparts. Just as kidult can be used to refer to young people who want to look and behave like adults, tweenager refers to even younger children who want to imitate the behaviour of the teenagers they can't wait to become. The related term tweenage is also widely used, and the noun tweenie is an earlier near synonym, which in the marketing context has given rise to terms like the tweenie pound, to refer to the economic potential of such young consumers.

It seems then that the changing lifestyles, consumerism and market forces of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century have conspired to create new concepts in child- and adulthood, with a resulting impact on demographic terminology. We have needed to find new ways of describing an adolescence which has extended to thirty and beyond, and a childhood which has shrunk to eight and below.

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