It's hard for parents to fight the influences of marketing
While enjoying unseasonably warm weather at the Lindenwood Park playground with our young charges from the African Children's Choir, a few of us found ourselves discussing the disciplined habits and wonderful manners of the young performers who w...
While enjoying unseasonably warm weather at the Lindenwood Park playground with our young charges from the African Children's Choir, a few of us found ourselves discussing the disciplined habits and wonderful manners of the young performers who were staying in our homes for three nights. Not only were "please" and "thank you" big in their vocabularies, but they also ate what was given them and actually asked permission to finish everything on their plates before responding to offers of more. Every morning the bed was made, and all their belongings neatly packed away before they had breakfast.
Quite a contrast to the children we'd raised, we all agreed. Of course, the African children had to be well-trained in order to travel for 15 months in three countries with eight or nine different family stays scheduled every month. Yet, we decided training didn't entirely explain it. And as we ruefully laughed over our own inadequacies in the discipline/training department of parenting, one of the women made an interesting comment: "It has to be part of their culture ... you can't always fight the culture."
Later that evening after the girls staying with us were in bed, (three across in a queen-sized bed, bedtime, 8 o'clock on the dot), I found myself thinking about the culture American children cannot escape, this world of Bratz dolls, violent video games, and sexually explicit advertising, a world where children - particularly girls - dress and act old too young as they're propelled through a frenetically paced childhood and adolescence that leaves them burned out rather than fired up about becoming adults.
The grade-school-aged African children, boys and girls alike, wore the same clothing and had their hair cropped close to their heads in unisex fashion, the only differentiating feature were the thin colored hair-bands worn by the girls. Candy, gum, TV, and video games were deemed Western influences not allowed in their home stays, since they'll return to Africa where dental care is minimal and cultural attitudes are different.
"Read to them," we were told; "play board games with them."
How odd and sensible that sounded to those of us tired of seeing the vulnerability and eagerness of America's children treated as a commodity for corporate exploitation. Or, as a consultant who specializes in marketing products for children wrote in "Marketing Times," when it comes to targeting age groups of American children, "(e)ight is the new thirteen."
It's hard for parents to fight that culture. At the same time, we shouldn't act surprised that there is epidemic obesity in children when corporate
fast-food giants team up with corporate entertainment giants to put popular toys in meals of greasy, fatty food. (Showing no appreciation for irony, McDonald's put "My Scene Barbies" in Happy Meals: Mommy, could I get an impossible body image with my fries, please.) That's just one disturbing trend.
Last February in an article for the American Psychological Association, Eileen L. Zurbriggen, Ph.D., wrote, "We have ample evidence to conclude that (early) sexualization has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, mental health and healthy sexual development." Hardly earth-shaking news, her statement, nevertheless, underscores the dilemma parents have countering a culture that in fashion and in every facet of media and entertainment pushes children to equate sexiness and sex with being cool and important. As a result, we've reached the point where corporate tycoons market thong underwear to preteens, and we act as if there's nothing to be done about it.
The answer, of course, isn't to turn the clock back or to romanticize the plight of children from a continent where poverty, disease, and war cause human suffering on a scale we can't comprehend. (On an educational level, even the African children touring with the choir are far behind American children, and their futures are not assured.) But we can be reminded that all children respond to orderliness and simple pleasures, that they are happiest when they are treated like children.
Ahlin teaches English as an adjunct faculty member at Minnesota State University Moorhead and is a regular contributor to The Forum's commentary pages. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
It's hard for parents to fight the influences of marketing Jane Ahlin 20071028