Empty Swings and Stores Full of Sexualization: We are very confused about childhood.

“Highly stereotyped and sexualized products and marketing rush our kids into looking and acting like mini-adults, but at the same time kids are given very little autonomy to wander around the neighborhood and play or to develop responsibilities.” –“Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween”

I talked about this during an interview the other day and I find this trend in parenting so curious. I think the explanation for it is that marketers and media have done two things: lulled us into being bind consumers and terrified us into irrational parents….but for all the wrong reasons. What I can’t understand is why more parents fail to think critically about it.

We are a generation of parents who no longer let our kids roam the neighborhood on bikes or trek out into the woods to build a fort or walk to the corner market to buy milk. Even suggesting as much can give people panic attacks because of the omnipresent (but statistically unsupported) fear of a child abductor lurking down the block.

BUT – we are the same generation of parents who make a brand of highly sexualized childrens’ dolls that look like sex workers earn nearly $20 million a quarter, cheer wildly for dance school performances that rival burlesque shows, allow horribly violent video games to serve as entertainment in our family rooms, and fail to shame companies and a music industry that uses corporate pedophilia to meet their bottom line.

There are not enough people getting furious over the sexualization of childhood and being fearful of the very real damage that does to kids, but let your kids play alone at the park for an hour and you become a social pariah. WHAT?!

Do we even remember what childhood is supposed to look like anymore?

I understand how marketers and 24-media do their job so well, what I can’t understand is — when did we stop questioning all of this? And why are we allowing our children to be rushed into the sexual and violent side of adulthood before we prepare them with real life adult skills like how to walk to the store and buy milk and catch the bus home. Does that seem a bit off to you?

We've removed the 'childhood' out of childhood.

We’ve removed the ‘childhood’ out of childhood.

**I’m using broad generalization because I know this community is talking about it. But nationally, oy vey do we have issues.
**Don’t put your three year old on a bus, age appropriate autonomy, people.

 

Photo credit: Simon Waters

Media Literacy By 8:20am

How much does media affect our kids? Well, all before 8:20 a.m. these are the questions I answered for my seven year old. Keep in mind when you read these that this child has been raised in a home that teaches media literacy along with ABC’s and 123’s, and that my husband and I closely filter what we watch, hear, and play with.

You cannot escape it, you have to know how to repackage, reframe, and reteach it. My daughter is awash with negative influences from peers at school right now. I can’t control how other people raise their kids, I can only help mine sort through the messages and keep our family’s morals front and center.

Conversation 1 at 7:19 am:
Amelia:  “Mom, I think for Halloween I want to be the vampire or the mummy from Monster High. The other girls are all going to be Draculaura. Can I be that?”

Me: “If all the other girls are going to be wearing the same costume, why would you want to look like them? Would it be more fun to create our own mummy or vampire? I will totally help you create an awesome costume, but I need to be up front with you right now, your father and I are not going to allow you to be dressed like a Monster High character. Can you tell me why?”

Amelia: “I know why. It is just that all the other girls are going to be it.”

Me: “Are you sure it is all the other girls, or just a couple that you are focusing on? Because I know for a fact that Emily and Angelina are both going to be ninjas.”

Amelia: “Well, I was also thinking of being Sam Sparks. Or a strawberry. Probably a vicious strawberry.”

 

Conversation 2 at 7:40 am:

Amelia: “At school the girls say that their clothes and accessories come from Justice. What is Justice?”

Me: “Oh, Justice is a store for girls in the mall. We can check it out sometime. I think you wear really cool clothes to school. No one quite has your style, little girlfriend.”

Amelia: “I know. My outfits are fabulous. I just wish I had more accessories. All the other girls say that is where their stuff comes from.”

Me: “Hmmm……I would be sad if I couldn’t pick you out on the playground because you and all the other girls look like a herd of zebras. Do you want to be all the other girls and blend in? Or do you want to be Amelia?

Amelia: “I want to be Amelia. Not a zebra. Is Justice the right kind of clothes for kids? Like no short skirts? Because I don’t need my business showing on the monkey bars.”

Conversation 3 at 8:14 am:

Amelia: “Mom, the princesses on that backpack look sexy. That isn’t really appropriate for school.”

Me: “I agree with you 100%.”

Amelia: “Maybe her parents don’t think about those things. Because those princesses don’t look like they do anything but stand around and be sexy.”

Me: “I think you are correct. That is why our family focuses on smart thoughts and brave actions. I think that girl is probably a neat little kid with a backpack that doesn’t send healthy or appropriate messages.”

Amelia: “Yeah, and she is a kindergartener so she doesn’t even need to be thinking about being sexy.”

Me: “True, and neither to second grade girls.”

Amelia: “Oh, I’m not. I’m thinking about all the dead pigeons in New York City.”

McDonald's Sees Moms as the Gatekeepers

I live in a medium-sized Midwestern town (about 63,000 people or so) and when my husband and I moved here from San Diego by way of Washington DC, we noticed there were not a lot of healthy kid-friendly restaurant options. Gone were all of the fresh foods at independent restaurant and smoothie stands.

We’ve been to McDonald’s with our kids before because in the winter when they were toddlers I needed somewhere to take them to burn off some energy. Aside from the library, our town offered nowhere else to go when it was snowy outside. So, we’d pack some fresh fruit and string cheese and head to the McDonald’s Playland. They got to socialize with their little friends, I got to see my friends, and I rationalized that the white milk and nuggets (no sauce or ketchup) weren’t all that bad. I remember freaking out a bit when my one year old daughter was fed a French fry for the first time (she doesn’t like them now). I’ve let my guard down since then, but I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know if that was the right thing to do.

As my kids got a bit older, and I became more aware of the insidious marketing McDonald’s aims at them. It is inescapable. And I don’t like it one bit.

That’s why I agreed to join up with Corporate Accountability International and their campaign “Moms Not Loving It”. I don’t like McDonald’s thinking of me as a gatekeeper, and directly marketing their unhealthy food to my family.

Here’s some of the things that both me, provided by CAI:

  • McDonald’s is clearly working to get around me as a parent and to aggressively market to my kids–from Happy Meal toys to Ronald assemblies in schools to online games–and that’s not okay.
  • McDonald’s aims to envelope the environment children grow-up in with marketing. Schools have long been exploited to market McDonald’s junk food to kids.
  • School districts can get $1000 for allowing Ronald to “pitch health and wellness” to kids. In one egregious example, schools were paid to print the McDonald’s logo on report cards. And all over the country, McDonald’s has deliberately cited restaurants near schools and sought to market and/or sell its product in schools.
  • To curry favor with parents McDonald’s has done everything from sponsoring this year’s Washington state PTA convention and promoting McTeacher’s Nights (that do more for the corporation’s bottom line and brand trust then they do for schools).
  • Online advertising and “advergames” are the newest way McDonald’s is
    innovating marketing to kids. As other forms of marketing receive greater and
    greater scrutiny and push back from moms, McDonald’s hopes to reach kids in
    yet another place it’s hard for parents to control. McWorld and HappyMeal.com
    are two marquee examples.
  • Cross-promotions with kids’ shows and movies like “The Croods” also ensure
    whatever has cultural currency for kids is connected to McDonald’s brand. In a
    2012 McDonald’s/Star Wars commercial, the corporation tells kids that “when
    it’s time to recharge, nothing beats a Happy Meal.”
    o Celebrities and role models that children look up to have long been employed to
    build brand loyalty with kids. The latest example is the corporation’s tabbing
    gymnast Gabby Douglas to promote a new breakfast offering.
    o Radio ads also target kids. The most insidious example was the promotion of
    McDonald’s junk food on BusRadio, which broadcast to 10,000 school buses and
    one million students in 24 states before going out of business.
    o Happy Meal toys. McDonald’s is one of the largest distributors of toys, giving
    away 1.5 billion toys each year worldwide.
     It will come as no surprise to parents, but market research indicates that
    only 16 percent of children under six choose fast food children’s meals
    for the food inside, while more than one-third of kids choose the socalled
    “Happy Meals” for the plastic collectables!

So visit http://www.stopcorporateabuse.org/momsnotlovinit to see how you can share this info via facebook, twitter, and email. Let’s get the word out there that we are #MomsNotLovingIt.

#MomsNotLovingIt - I don't agree with marketing unhealthy food to kids.