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Parents Who Let Childhood Be Stolen
Take a good look at your 10-year-old. Chances are, she looks like Maja Kahn, profiled in Newsweek's cover story, "The Tween Years": a tight blue tank top, dark blue flare-legged pants and nine necklaces to match the four earrings in her ears. If she's like many other tweens, she wears sexy lingerie, daubing herself with scented body oil labeled things like "FoIlow Me Boy."
By 12, the words children use to describe themselves in focus groups include "flirtatious, sexy, trendy, cool." Fifty years ago, says Newsweek, when girls talked of self-improvement, they meant doing good works or improving their grades. Now, "in adolescent girls' private diaries and journals, the body is a consistent preoccupation, second only to peer relationships."
The Toy Manufacturers Association reports the audience for toys now maxes out at age 10, not 14. "Even 7- and 8-year-olds are scorning Barbie," reports Kay Hymowitz, a Manhattan Institute senior fellow and author of the provocative new Free Press Book, "Ready or Not: Why Treating Children as Small Adults Undermines Their Future—and Ours.”
How did this happen?
On the one hand, says Hymowitz, it is the result of marketers doing what marketers do. If that means undermining "childhood by turning children into teen consumers," well, then, so be it.
The creepiest part of her book is the unself-conscious pronouncement of marketers about the importance of seducing your kids. When PBS introduced Teletubbies (under the absurd excuse that toddlers need education to become comfortable with technology), marketers were thrilled because heretofore "the 1-to-2-year-old niche hasn't been filled very well." The 1-to-2-year-old niche?
On the other hand, the triumph of the marketers was made possible by experts who have trained parents to see their role as "allies, trainers, partners, friends, facilitators, co-learners and advocates," writes Hymowitz—anything but the authorities on how to live life. The price children pay was suggested most poignantly by the president of the Cartoon Network who, when asking kids to suggest contest prizes, was amazed at the number who spoke not of an all-expense-paid trip to Disneyland, but of spending a "whole day with my mom or dad." Kids, not Jerry Falwell, are now telling marketers they don't like to see cartoons in which their fragile, elusive, uncertain parents are mocked.
Parents such as Allie's mother, who sympathizes with pressure on her 10-year-old daughter, what with getting up at 6:30 and going to sleep by 11 after a .full day of classes, homework, skating lessons, TV-watching, phone-talking and violin practice. When she thinks of "how much [Allie's] been exposed to, it just amazes me," Mom told Newsweek. "I'm not worried, though. I don't look at her and say, 'Oh, it's too bad she's not a child anymore’ I just say to myself, 'She's a child of the ‘90s.’”
With such a child-mother of the '60s at her side—a best friend but not bedtime-setter—what choice does Allie really have?
©1999 New York Post
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