Trope Talk - 12 and 13 year olds, the age of children's adventure stories

TheMisterManGuy

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Think about some past or recent animated series that you've seen. Amphibia, Gravity Falls, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Kipo and the age of Wonderbeasts, The Owl House, The Last Kids on Earth, Infinity Train. What do all of these cartoons have in common? Besides the fact that they're all semi-serious adventure shows that are critically acclaimed and deal with mature themes for children's entertainment, the main characters at the start of the show are all 12, 13, and on rare occasions, 14 years old. Regardless of how serious or high the stakes are, it's always up to middle schoolers to save the day.

It's common knowledge when writing Youth entertainment that children like to follow characters that are older than them. Shows about Middle and High School kids are popular with children, because little kids think adolescence (at least how its portrayed in animation) is cool. Scooby-Doo is about Teenagers, but it's not aimed at actual teenagers for example. However, it only just hit me how common tweenage protagonists are in children's fantasy-adventure properties, not even just animation.

12 and 13 are very common ages for the MCs of fantasy stories for children in the west, and I think I know why. Preteens are at that sweet spot, where they're just old and aspirational enough for young kids to look up to, but are also just young enough that they can still be relatable to kids. They're at the age where they're starting to gain more independence and autonomy from parents, which to a child, means they can go on cool adventures. But at the same time (at least in fiction), they're generally not too cynical to where they'd reject stuff that's whimsical or magical. They're often willing to embrace the adventure, which means kids can still connect with them on a certain level. They're also at the age of trying to figure out who they are as people, which allows for deeper character development and growth than a younger protagonist.

Let's take Infinity Train as an example. The first season (Book One) follows 12-year old Tulip Olsen as she struggles to cope with the aftermath of her parent's divorce. In the first episode, she runs away after plans to go to Game Design camp fall through, only to get picked up by the titular train. Upon realizing she's on the train after meeting One-One however, rather than act scared or hesitant to move forward, her reaction is instead being excited, yelling "I'm on a train?! Like a really big train?!" in a gleeful manner. When Tulip enters the next car, she's shown to be more than willing to roll with whatever weirdness the train throws at her. It's only after noticing the number on her hand, and realizing the potential danger she can get herself into that she decides to find a way off.

This is a great example of a scene that could only really work if a character was a certain age. If Tulip was for example, 9, she would be too scared to press forward, and would need the help of an older, parental-like figure to guide her. If Tulip was 15 or 16, she'd be way too cynical and hesitant to engage with the strange worlds on the train, and would be more likely to manipulate or abuse the other denizens to get her way. By making Tulip 12, the writers are able to keep her grounded in a child-like sense of wonder and curiosity, while still making her old enough to analyze and engage with her surroundings in a more adult-like manner.

Obviously, children will be entertained by many types of stories and characters, but I think when it comes to children's media, 12 and 13 have always been sort of a sweet spot for main character ages.
 
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Pooky

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I think a large part of this is that the core audience for these shows is the 7-11 demographic, and there's a bit of a stigma among kids in watching characters who are younger than them. 12 Year Olds are still characters they can "look up" to.
 

The Overlord

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I think a large part of this is that the core audience for these shows is the 7-11 demographic, and there's a bit of a stigma among kids in watching characters who are younger than them. 12 Year Olds are still characters they can "look up" to.

It also helps that 12 or 13 is young enough to be kid, but old enough not be helpless. It's kinda hard to have an adventure staring a 7 year old.

It's not just middle schoolers, since the 1960s Marvel had teen heroes to appeal to younger people and you also have characters like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the cast of Total Drama as older teens in shows aimed as kids.

This is common among media aimed at kids, I remember Choose Your Own Adventures stories being aimed at kids and would have kid protagonists getting into super dangerous situations, where the main character would die of you made the wrong choice.
 

TheMisterManGuy

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It also helps that 12 or 13 is young enough to be kid, but old enough not be helpless. It's kinda hard to have an adventure staring a 7 year old.

I feel like that's part of the reason Disney requested that the main characters in Amphibia be 13 instead of 16 like they were intended. They probably felt kids wouldn't really buy a 16 year old being in a child-like fantasy world of talking frogs.

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Antiyonder

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I feel like that's part of the reason Disney requested that the main characters in Amphibia be 13 instead of 16 like they were intended. They probably felt kids wouldn't really buy a 16 year old being in a child-like fantasy world of talking frogs.

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Yeah, but why do these assumptions exist when having older teens and even adults in the lead use to be a norm?

I mean unless they asked kids directly "Would you be good for an action/adventure series with an adult cast?" and were responded to with some hard Nos, can't be sure.

Heck I'm pretty sure kids still like to see PG and PG-13 stuff even when they are definitely heavy on adult casts.
 

TheMisterManGuy

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Yeah, but why do these assumptions exist when having older teens and even adults in the lead use to be a norm?

I mean unless they asked kids directly "Would you be good for an action/adventure series with an adult cast?" and were responded to with some hard Nos, can't be sure.

Heck I'm pretty sure kids still like to see PG and PG-13 stuff even when they are definitely heavy on adult casts.
Of course. As I said, kids can be entertained by many different stories about many types of people. I think it ultimately comes down to what the writers think will thematically work for a story and/or what the producers in charge think will get them a larger audience.
 

LinusFan303

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12/13 is a very classic age spot , an age once considered the transition to adulthood, and still considered for some religions. Alot of the adventure series, in general, are also coming of age stories and 12-14 gives that mood of not being too young but not too old, and trying use the adventures to also come of age and transition from maturity. It fun age zone for story telling. There's also this sense that around that age you think you know everything (though really, does anybody really know anything?) and there are spots that can prove that's not true and gives the characters an understanding that they have room to grow. That would be harder to do with a 7-year-old, and with older teenagers it's a little different, though there would be some good story telling that could come from that if done well.

Also around that age zone there's a sense of trying to fit in to the world and assert your own independence and in story telling it helps a character try to get achieve that and allows them to kind of falter as well. For the viewing audience, if they are younger 6-11 , the average, it gives them someone older to see but not too old to be unrelatable in their own way. It also allows the characters themselves to be a little goofy still because they are at the bridge of childhood and not.
 

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