They say 13 Is Unlucky. But for some occasions, particularly birthdays, this myth can have varying truth.
Turning 13 may not be as important as 18, 21, or even the Sweet Sixteen, but it can still be a big deal depending on how hyped the age is in fiction.
In the Western world, 13 is considered the age at which children officially become teenagers, hence the root suffix "-teen" in the English number system starting at thirteen. When kids enter their teenage years, they are often faced with a lot of challenges, such as puberty, transitioning from primary to secondary school, individuating from family in favor of friends, peer pressure, and the notion that Growing Up Sucks. While most of these issues don't happen until later into the teens due to older teenagers having fewer restrictions and being closer to adulthood, they can affect early teens as well, as Junior High is a difficult time in many kids' lives.
While kids certainly won't be able to drive for another few years, 13 is often used as a threshold in age content rating systems to mark the transition from family/kid-friendly media into more mature content. This is best exemplified by the Motion Picture Association (MPA) rating of PG-13 — the intermediate rating category smoothening the gap between PG and R — and the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) video game rating of T for Teen, which does the same for the jump from E10+ (Everyone Ages 10 & Up) to M for Mature (17+). 13 is also the minimum age children can sign up for most virtual communication and social networking services based in the U.S.note
For these reasons, 13 is often declared as the cutoff point for childhood in fiction and sometimes in Real Life, and used to divide the line between childhood and adolescence, although there is still overlap with being a child and being a teen, mainly for legal purposes of being a minor.
Of course, becoming a teenager isn't always the reason for 13 being a milestone age in fiction, as there are many other chosen reasons in works that hardly focus on the transition from childhood to puberty, so it is just a coincidence in those cases. 13 is also the age of the Bar Mitzvah and regularly serves as the Coming of Age Story for males in Jewish culture.note
In some cases, the hype for becoming a teenager at this age becomes so strong that once fictional children turn 13, they develop a sense of ego where they think their new title makes them superior. In tragic cases, this can make the kid in question self-consciously go from an innocent child to a total Hormone-Addled Teenager, and may provide fuel for a work dealing with the archetype that Teens Are Monsters.
Subtrope of Liminal Time. Can result in Milestone Birthday Angst if the character does not look forward to this milestone and the negative connotations it comes with. See also Bittersweet 17 and Dangerous 16th Birthday. If something bad happens on their 13th birthday or shortly after, can coincide with 13 Is Unlucky and A Birthday, Not a Break.
While turning 13 has been considered a milestone in different cultures for quite a long time (especially in Judaism), it's worth noting that the concept of the "teenager" as we know it today is Newer Than They Think — it was born in The '50s merely as a marketing category for companies to create a new consumer demographic to sell "cool" and trendy products to. Compulsory schooling laws played a big role in the recognition of adolescents as a separate demographic from children and adults, along with the post-War economic boom and industrialization banning child labor in America. However, most of the media centered around teens from this time was typically about high school juniors and seniors, and the 13th birthday wasn't characterized as a turning point until the latter half of the 20th century. It is mostly a tradition in the English-speaking Western world, as many foreign languages lack a numeric consistency from 13-19 in their number pattern.
- The Rigel Black Chronicles: Wizards' and witches' magical cores mature on their 13th birthday, generally enlarging and stabilising, and potentially manifesting any bloodline gifts.
- Harry, however, already had more magic than she really needed. She spends her birthday in burning agony from the excess magic, soothed only when she borrows her mother's suppression bracelet, and later finds that she now has so much magic that she literally can't use it without overloading and destroying any spells or potions she tries.
- Draco's actual birthday is more normal, but at the party a short time later, since his core is now matured, Harry gives him a Potentialis Potion to reveal any magical gifts he may have. The potion was apparently made too strong due to the quirks of Harry's magic, and it doesn't just reveal gifts, it actually unlocks an empathic gift that was dormant until then. Which is useful, but also can't be turned off and is driving Draco mad with the constant flow of information about other people's feelings.
- In the Star Trek: Enterprise fanfic Who is Hoshi Sato?, Hoshi's lycanthropy turned on when she turned 13.
- Kiki's Delivery Service: When witches turn 13, they leave home to start a year of training to establish themselves and hone their craft.
- Turning Red: As the movie starts, Meilin Lee has recently turned 13 and thinks she's now a grownup, able to do her own thing 24/7/365, just because the Toronto Transit Commission gives her an ID at this age. Shortly afterward, she starts experiencing puberty as well as the family power handed down from her ancestor Sun Yee, which causes her to transform into a giant red panda whenever she gets excited or angry. In the film's climax, Mei angrily emphasizes to her mother Ming that she's 13 now and thinks that gives her an excuse to rebel against Ming's authority. The whole movie is in many ways a metaphor for puberty (though not specifically for menstruation, as Mei does not get her first period during the film).
- The Thirteenth Year revolves around a boy turning into a mermaid upon his 13th birthday and attaining a Puberty Superpower.
- 13 Going on 30: Junior high student Jenna Rink is turning 13 and persuades Girl Posse the "Six Chicks" — lead by "Tom-Tom" — to come to her 13th birthday party by doing their homework for them. Later on, Jenna's best friend and next-door neighbor, Matty, who is secretly in love with Jenna, gives her a homemade pink dollhouse and a packet of "magic wishing dust" he sprinkles onto the dollhouse. When Jenna is in the closet during a game of "seven minutes in Heaven" at Matty's house, she wishes that she was an attractive and rich 30-year-old woman, and the magic wishing dust from the dollhouse falls onto her and has her wake up the next morning in a Fifth Avenue apartment, realizing that her wish came true.
- The Covenant: In the town of Ipswich, four boys — Caleb Danvers, Pogue Parry, Reid Garwin, and Tyler Simms, together known as the Sons of Ipswich — are the descendants of colonial witch families and possess magical powers. Their powers begin on their 13th birthday and grow stronger until they Ascend at 18.
- Halloweentown: A variant. A witch or warlock's 13th Halloween is meant to signal the end of their training. For 13-year-old Marnie, who has been kept from training her whole life, her 13th Halloween is her last chance to learn magic before she loses it forever.
- The adventure in The Crimson Tide is kicked off when an army of raiders invades your village on your 13th birthday, turning it into a Doomed rich palms no deposit bonus codestown. You then rally the village kids on a quest to seek your missing family, embarking on an adventure that lasts for several years and in the best ending, eventually reuniting with your mother when you're 18 as well as putting an end to an age of tyranny.
- The Diary of a Young Girl: Anne Frank was given her diary on her 13th birthday, where she would begin writing about her life in pre-war Amsterdam, before documenting her time in hiding from the Nazis.
- Green (2011): Lilybet discovers her leprechaun ancestry and her Secret Legacy as the next keeper of the Clan of Green on her 13th birthday when she is deemed old enough to take on the role.
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: On his 13th birthday, Harry Potter receives birthday cards and presents from his friends for the first time (since Dobby the House Elf withheld his friends' letters the year before in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets). He also receives a letter from Professor McGonagall, the deputy headmistress of Hogwarts, stating that as a third year, he'll be allowed to go to Hogsmeade Village on weekends, if he can get the Dursleys to sign his permission slip.
- Jeremy Fink And The Meaning Of Life centers around a 12-year-old boy named Jeremy Fink who with the help of his neighbor Lizzy Muldoun tries to retrieve a wooden box sent to Jeremy that is to be opened when on his 13th birthday and is supposed to teach him the meaning of life.
- In Savvy, in some families, turning 13 is a big deal since that's the birthday that a person's "savvy" (that is, their superpower) activates.
- 7th Heaven: In the Season 1 episode "With a Little Help from My Friends", Lucy's 13th birthday is coming up and she wants it to be a day she'll remember by throwing a coed party, but unfortunately, her parents object and declare her too young. To make matters worse, a geeky boy in her school named Dwight shares a birthday with her and has a simultaneously occurring party on Wednesday. The Camden parents invite Dwight over to the house and decide to have him and Lucy celebrate their birthdays together, which makes Lucy feel embarrassed. However, after a dinner outing with her family, Lucy still has time for Dwight's party and realizes he's really a nice guy after all and Dwight confesses he's in love with her, but Lucy is already taken by Jimmy Moon, though she and Dwight remain friends. The episode ends with Lucy's family giving her a basket of things to get her through her teen years and saying happy birthday to her.
- In the Andi Mack debut series episode "13", Andi gets a surprise visit on her 13th birthday from her older sister Bex, who announces she will be moving back in with their parents Celia and Ham. Bex then gives Andi a back of secrets contained and opens it to reveal a picture taken of Bex holding Andi as a baby. It is at that moment revealed that Bex is actually Andi's mother, leaving Andi curious to as if there's a picture of her father inside the box.
- In the Man Up pilot episode, Will tries to find the perfect gift representing masculinity to give to his son for his 13th birthday to denote his coming of age.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation: In "The Icarus Factor", Worf explains that the first of two rounds of the Rite of Ascension, where a young Klingon is accepted as a warrior in training, is supposed to happen on or before their 13th birthday.
- Stuck in the Middle: Harley is having her 13th birthday in the episode "Stuck in the Sweet Seat", but nobody remembers her birthday. Harley believes her parents will feel guilty about forgetting her special day and decides to use that "guilt" to get the best seat in the family car as a present — the sweet seat, reserved for the oldest child, Rachel. To ensure she gets the sweet seat, and as soon as her siblings realize it's her birthday, Harley urges them to stay quiet about it for the rest of the day and distract Suzy and Tom from remembering. In trying to keep her birthday a secret, Harley endures demands from Daphne to keep quiet, as well as getting into trouble. Later that night, Georgie reminds Harley how precious celebrating birthdays with the family is becoming, as the older siblings will soon be leaving home. That prompts Harley to let go of her desire for the sweet seat and let the family know about her big day. As for that sweet seat, she can wait.
- The Waltons: The episode "The Changeling" is centered around the youngest Walton child, Elizabeth, about to have her 13th birthday, with her mother reminding her that entering her teens is a big deal and everyone expressing surprise over the baby of the family becoming a teenager. It's treated as quite a Coming of Age Story since at the beginning Elizabeth still wants to walk home from school hopping on one foot with her friend Aimee, while Aimee walks off hinting the command for Elizabeth to grow up. Elizabeth experiences the wind tossing her hair on the way home from school and it continues at home through the window. It gets even weirder when she summons two piano keys to play themselves and causes items to fall down, move, or fly out the window without even touching them, which nobody in the family can seem to recognize the cause of. This causes Elizabeth to have second thoughts about throwing a party for her 13th birthday, along with Aimee's peer pressure. However, she eventually changes her mind but wants a slumber party with her girlfriends instead of a traditional kids' party. Since her friends tell ghost stories that summon the scary movements of the house items again, it is officially revealed that Elizabeth's superstitions were just caused by fear of growing up, and the house turns back to normal in the end.
- The story focuses on Evan, who is forced to move from New York City to Appleton, Indiana due to his parents' divorce just before his Bar Mitzvah, meaning he has to make enough friends by his 13th birthday to have a big blowout party, where he hopes his life will finally settle and he'll understand what it means to be a man. While it seems like Evan has lost everyone but the unpopular kids as friends due to finally standing up the Jerk Jock, Evan finally starts to understand what being a man means.
- All of the characters treat turning 13 as a huge deal, as the title song suggests.
- Falsettos: Discussed and Zig-Zagged. The second act note centers around preparation for Jason's Bar Mitzvah.
- Initially, the adults in his life consider it a bigger deal than he does — Jason himself sees it as "a celebration where I get presents", more fixated on which girls from his class to invite than the meaning of being a man. At one point he threatens to cancel it just so his divorced parents will stop fighting about it.
- However, when Whizzer's AIDS symptoms make him bedridden, Jason is forced to make a mature decision over whether or not to cancel, and decides to hold the Bar Mitzvah in the hospital room, giving up the girls and the big party so he can be with the people who matter most to him. Whizzer dies soon after, marking an end of innocence for Jason.
- The All Grown Up! episode "Lucky 13" revolves around Angelica's upcoming 13th birthday, with her bragging about becoming a teenager while her preteen peers won't be, and how she'll finally be able to sit with the cool crowd at lunch, but unfortunately, her rival Savannah is hosting a party the same day and Angelica feels like nobody will care about her 13th birthday.
- The Amazing Spiez!: The episode "Operation Terrible Thirteen" revolves around children around the world who are having their 13th birthdays mutated by an unknown assailant. It turns out to be the work of another kid who is turning 13, a girl named Kat, all so that she can have the biggest, best, and only celebration out of all of them. The spies don't hesitate to call her out over just how crazy and petty her plan is.
- Amphibia: Anne is peer-pressured into opening a magical box known as the Calamity Box which transports her and her best friends Sasha and Marcy into the mysterious world of Amphibia, where the girls are separated from each other. This happened on her 13th birthday.
- Bob's Burgers: The episode "Sheesh! Cab, Bob?" has Tina turning 13 and wanting a party with smoke machines and streamers and to invite a few people from her class, particularly a boy named Jimmy Pesto Jr. Louise takes on the role of the kissing coordinator at the party and the episode ends with Tina and Jimmy Jr. sharing a kiss under the disco ball.
- Codename: Kids Next Door: Operatives of the K.N.D. are decommissioned on their 13th birthdays — when they officially become teenagers — so that they do not pass valuable secrets to the evil Teen Ninjas and adults. Abby's sister Cree and Chad are the rare examples that escaped the decommissioning, but the birthday still marked their FaceHeel Turn. For some operatives like Maurice, however, this birthday marks them going undercover as double agents instead.
- The Gravity Falls episode "Dipper and Mabel vs. the Future" has the Mystery Twins prepare for the arrival of their 13th birthday — which not only marks the end of their childhood, but is also on the same day as their last day in Gravity Falls, and is seen as something Dipper anticipates but Mabel fears.
- In the King of the Hill episode "I Don't Want to Wait for Our Lives to Be Over, I Want to Know Right Now, Will It Be... Sorry. Do Do Doo Do Do, Do Do Doo Do Do, Do Do Doo Do Do, Doo..." (a title parodying the Paula Cole song "I Don't Want to Wait", famously known as the theme song for Dawson's Creek), Bobby's 13th birthday is coming up and he expresses annoyance over everyone still treating him like a little kid after Joseph has returned from a vacation and grown six inches over the summer.
- Judaism declares the coming-of-age ceremonies of the Bar and Bat Mitzvahs to be 13. A Jewish boy or girl respectively undergoes a rite of passage deeming them an adult under Jewish law, capable of making their own decisions.note
- Hindu boys of some castes, like Brahmins, hold a grand "thread ceremony" on their 12th or 13th birthdays. The child takes a blessed thread and wears it to symbolize his coming of age. This is called the Upanayan.
- On September 27, 2011, Google celebrated its 13th anniversary by displaying a doodle featuring cake, presents, and balloons.