Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Boyfriend jeans" for toddler girls?!?

Wow, it has been a week since I last posted - but my time has been well spent getting the new website ready. Stay tuned because we will launch it later this week.

In the meantime, a friend sent me a link to an item on the babyGap website. He was looking for jeans for his just-turned four-year-old daughter. He wanted something that was not flowery, pink or "skinny". He came across "boyfriend" jeans for toddler girls - as young as 12 months - for "your budding fashionista". Whoa! What are they thinking?! Why would babyGap name them "boyfriend" jeans? The jeans are also "comfy-cool". Why can't they just be "comfy"? This is a great example of age-compression. Marketers use this term to describe the phenomenon of younger children doing things that older children used to do. Age-compression is an effective way to sell more products - such as expensive clothes and electronic gadgets - to younger and younger children. It's not so great for kids who are being pushed to grow up too quickly. My friend was outraged, and worried about the future his young daughter will face. I was outraged, too, and disgusted as well. You can be sure I'll be writing a letter to the Gap to let them know.

The babyGap "boyfriend jeans" reminded me of another friend who has a four-year-old daughter. This little girl suddenly took a strong liking to a certain pair of sparkly jeans. She wore them to preschool one day - and then wanted to wear them every day. Guess why. A little boy in her class had told her the jeans were "cool". Her mom said to her, "You're four. You're cute - not cool."

Raising daughters in today's highly-sexualized world is a daunting task. In my post from December 28th I mentioned So Sexy So Soon; The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids Diane Levin's book (cowritten with Jean Kilbourne) as an excellent resource for parents. Another great resource is Joe Kelly, The Dad Man, and an expert on dads and daughters. He has written a whole bunch of books on this topic. Here is the link to his 10 Tips for Dads and Stepdads with Daughters.

If you see things that outrage you as a parent, share your outrage. Let companies know when you aren't happy. Write to me about what outrages you, and I will share your stories.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sad news about $esame $treet

Once again, Sesame Street is disappointing me. A few months ago, when many, many people were celebrating Sesame Street's 40th anniversary, I wasn't. Check out my post "When did Sesame Street become $esame $treet " for more about that.

At tomorrow's Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas, the world will be introduced to Nintendo DS gaming accessories from our dear friends at Sesame Workshop. The new line of Sesame branded products includes earbuds, ear phones and other completely unnecessary products that will lure young children and their families further into the plugged-in world and farther away from real human interactions. See today's Kid Screen Daily for a bit more information about these new products.

It aggravates me to no end when companies that parents have trusted for years exploit that trust and sell products which replace healthy social and emotional connections and actually get in the way of quality play. Parenting is a hard enough job already. Shame on you, Sesame Street!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Seeing Star Wars again - for the first time

I came home the other night to find a small dent in the kids' bedroom wall. The dent was the size and shape of my son's forehead. "What happened?" I asked my husband. "Well," he explained, "We were watching The Incredibles and this guy [one of our sons] was pretending to be 'Dash' [the child in the Incredibles family who can run extremely fast] and he ran and jumped into bed - and right into the wall."

Do kids imitate what they see on television? Well, clearly my kids do. Luckily, the wall was pretty much okay - and the head, too.

A more violent movie series, however, has had an even stronger effect on our boys. They recently began watching the Star Wars series. This is amazing to me, since up until a few months ago, they were too frightened to watch just about any movie. This includes Finding Nemo and even a few of the Thomas the Tank Engine episodes. (One episode features a train derailing from a bridge and falling into a river - leaving ghosts behind.)

When the boys started asking to watch the Star Wars movies (they had read some of their dad's Star Wars books) we agreed. A part of me was glad that they were becoming less frightened by what they saw on the screen - and although I was never a fan of the series, their dad was. Plus they had watched plenty of NOVA space specials, and wanted to take the next leap.

However, now that they have been indoctrinated into the Star Wars universe, light sabers and guns have become a primary focus of their play. When we played charades with our cousins last week, my sons wrote down every Star Wars character they could think of (including from the Clone Wars animated series), and took special pleasure in acting out fight scenes they had watched in the movies. They've also gotten very adept at imitating the sounds of the automatic weapons and explosions. "I like the Clone Wars the best," my son explained, "Because you don't have to wait too long for something to get blown up."

To be honest, I've only seen one of the movies, and I only watched it once. "I didn't realize there is so much shooting in Star Wars," I said. "Well, mom," my son explained, "It has 'war' in the name. 'Star Wars'. It's all about war." Wow. I never even thought of that. I always focused on the outer space aspect - never the war aspect. But there it is - right in the title.

Now, of course, I regret that we gave in and let the boys watch, even though they watch it with their dad. They aren't even six years old yet. Last night, when my son was upset, he said he wanted to get a gun and shoot the whole world. That was hard to hear and I felt responsible. I told him, "You can be upset, and you can be angry, and you can tell us what you are angry about, but shooting people is a real serious thing. It isn't a joke." I realized they are just too young to be watching Star Wars. Even if they beg. My husband agrees. Watching the Star Wars series now, through the lens of a father who works in healthcare - and at a time when our country is actually at war - he has gained a new perspective.

I knew there was a reason we don't have a television. I guess I just needed a reminder.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Empowered by Play's nomination for worst invention of the decade: "Tween"

There is some debate about where and when the term "tween" first hit the mainstream. There is also debate about the exact tween parameters. Some say tweens are the 8 to 14 year olds; others say 9 to 13 year olds; and others claim 6 to 12 year olds. And now, we even see the term "pre-tween" for the 4 to 6 year old market. Scary! Without debate, most tween marketing is aimed at girls, and is often over-sexualized. Many folks attribute the tween explosion to the emergence of two marketing moguls: the Olsen Twins (Mary-Kate and Ashley who grew up on the television show Full House).

For me, the whole "tween" explosion is something I could do without. In fact, I am calling it the worst invention of the decade. Parents already feel their children are growing up too quickly, and children naturally have an urge to grow up. Puberty is hitting at earlier and earlier ages. But why do marketers have the right to exploit children - taking away their childhood and their families' hard-earned money? The "tween" construct simply serves to indoctrinate children into a culture of consumption at an earlier and earlier age.

Stop the insanity and let our kids be kids. Check out Diane Levin's book So Sexy So Soon (co-written with Jean Kilbourne) for more about age compression and helpful ideas about what parents can do to protect their children. There is also a powerful documentary, Consuming Kids, by the Media Education Foundation. Check out the Consuming Kids trailer and stay tuned here for news about an upcoming Empowered by Play screening of Consuming Kids.

Here's to a healthy, happy and playful new year.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Time for kids to be kids

On Friday I picked up my sons from school - it was the last day of school until January 4th - a nice, long break. As I greeted the school staff, and wished them well, we agreed the break was well deserved for everyone. "Time for the kids to be kids. They grow up too fast these days," one staff member commented. I nodded in agreement, saying, "You are singing my song!"

Kids are growing up too quickly these days. Marketers have tapped into children's natural desire to grow up and have exploited this innate desire - selling designer clothes and expensive electronic gadgets - convincing kids that owning these objects will make them feel cool and happy. This "age compression" leaves our children feeling unsettled, confused and usually not very happy. Check out these survey results about kids' Internet searches posted by OnlineFamily.Norton:

Top Searches of 2009 – By Age Group

  • Youtube, Facebook, and Google comprise the top 3 search terms for kids.
  • Sex comes in at #4 for teens and tweens while porn comes in #4 for kids 7 and under.
  • Taylor Swift was the top searched for term among teens. For tweens and kids 7 and under, it was Michael Jackson.
  • Teens and tweens spend most of their search time online on music related subjects (34% and 27%).*
  • Kids under the age of seven spend most of their search time online on games (23%).*
  • Kids under the age of seven are conducting searches for P2P sites like Limewire and Mininova.
Teen (13-18)Tween (8-12)7 & Under
5MySpaceClub PenguinClub Penguin
7YahooYou TubeWebkinz
8Youtube.comMiniclipYou Tube
11Taylor SwiftPornNick Jr
12You TubeMichael JacksonYoutube.com
13Party in the USAFredGmail
14Michael JacksonWebkinzCartoon Network
Michael Jackson
16Lady GagaMiley CyruseBay
17Facebook LoginGmailDisney Channel
18GmailParty in the USACbeebies
19Miley CyrusGamesHotmail
20Facebook.comTaylor SwiftHannah Montana
21Justin BieberAddicting gamesLego
22Lil WayneHotmailDisney
23HotmailPoptropicaYahoo Mail
24MySpace.comMySpaceFacebook Login
25New MoonHannah MontanaMySpace

Seeing this list drives home how difficult it has become for parents to keep a handle on what their children are seeing and doing. Did you catch that "Porn" is the number #4 search for kids seven and under? For me, there is no better time than right now to keep our kids offline and out of the virtual world. During this vacation, I am hoping that kids everywhere will have time to play creatively, build, make and do -both indoors and outdoors, and unplugged as much as possible.

Fair Use

When using any copyrighted materials in my comments, I believe it constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107. All original material, including the name Empowered by Play and the Empowered by Play logo, is owned by Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin.