Parenting In The Age Of Twitter: Advertisements for kids, Agendas, And Axioms
Like it or not, we live in a technocratic world.
Sure, technology and mass media are convenient, but what about the effects it has on kids? Young people are notoriously impressionable, and advertisements aimed directly—or indirectly—at the youth can have unexpected effects. Popular culture is sinuous, seductive and ultimately pervasive; it’s an all-encompassing conglomerate of idolatry, name-dropping, product-pushing and subversive inundation. Widely consumed media—including television and film, tabloids, magazines and contemporary novels, advertisements for kids, reality television, the music industry and corporate jingles ad infinitum—is the 21st century’s societal lifeline, providing a set of prepackaged, conveniently commercial ideals and beliefs.
Now, this is bad enough for the fully grown folk, who have had a chance to investigate themselves—to figure out who they are and what they believe. The generational gap is more important than most of us acknowledge: there’s a distinct difference between growing up free of technological impositions and coming of age in a century where every trip to the grocery store is ripe for tweeting. It’s just a matter of time before we start taking selfies with the cashier, or maybe with the boxes of cereal. That example, trite as it may be, is an example of the American consumerism complex—it’s almost ridiculous, right?
More important than anything else—at least in this realm of discussion—is the template of dynamic interactions created by excessive exposure to advertisements for kids and media early on in development. Seven, which is commonly cited as the ‘age of reason’, is a relatively reasonable time to begin looking for signs of fixation—asking for brand name cereals, or ‘the one with the pretty birdy on it!’ are rather routine occurrences. Often, rationales behind these requests will be given as ‘But Johnny’s mommy lets him get that one!’ and so on. Peer culture is a driving force in the life of today’s child, and can frequently dictate the child’s interests, growth and self-image.
Self image is the kicker—an accurate perception of self is necessary. One might even go so far as to call it inherent. However, the real question is whether or not the alleged ‘self-image’ is actually self-generated. All too often, the child, ‘tween’, or adolescent allows him or herself to be swayed by what ‘everyone else’ is doing. The human brain has an instinctual drive for ‘fitting in’: way back when, in an earlier millennia, fitting in meant surviving. Although this is still applicable to a certain extent, today’s society is much more individualistic—an odd sort of catch-22.
Peer pressure and mass marketing go hand in hand—the industry indirectly pressures the child consumer to purchase a certain product or a certain brand, and the children indirectly pressure one another. As a teenager, I recall wearing clothes from Old Navy to school on a dress-down day—I attended a parochial school for much of my adolescent years—and being made fun of. As I’d worn a uniform my whole life, I was confused—how could what I put on my body be cause for teasing?
It was a simple phenomenon, in retrospect. ‘Cooler’ clothes were being advertised; my classmates frequented the mall, and I did not—I could list possible reasons forever. However, the end result remains the same. I received a stinging blow to my pride, and a crash-course education in consumerism.
I thought I could one-up everyone the next time we were allowed to wear ‘play clothes’ to school: I knew my older cousins were considered fashionable, and I was sure that if I were to wear the hand-me-downs I’d gotten from them, then I’d surely be cool. Not so. There’s no way to win with middle schoolers, I quickly discovered. I did eventually find my way into my own, but still: media, advertisements for kids, and peer pressure did have massive effects on the tenure of my adolescence, in and of itself. My mother could not understand why—truth is, it is simply a different world than the one she grew up in.
Much of this can be traced back to the relaxations on legislature concerning the media, which restricted advertising directed at children during the Reagan administration. Naomi Rockler-Gladen discusses her experiences in the classroom in her critical article, Me Against the Media: From the Trenches of a Media Lit Class, using her interactions with students and the cultural fixation on consuming as a jumping-off point.
After airing a clip from Father of the Bride (1991), a film in which the titular parent is guilted into paying for his daughter’s lavish wedding, she makes a point to note the reactions of her students. Although the purpose of showing the excerpt from the film was meant to underscore how media subtly promotes consumerism and discreetly advertises, Rockler-Gladen reports that her students reacted in a way she didn’t expect—because quite a few of her female students wanted a fancy wedding for themselves, they took personal offense to the implication that something about their dream was flawed.
While the ‘kids’ Rockler-Gladen discusses are closer to young adulthood than middle school, her point is still valid. How does the parent help the child form a self-identity outside of pressure from media, persuasive advertisement examples for kids, peers and society?
It’s a difficult task. Unfortunately, there’s no concrete way to go about it. The parent can only encourage, and provide a reality check for the child as he or she comes into contact with various forms of media and advertising, whether on television, the internet or social networks.
It is also a good idea to be aware of the constantly evolving nature of social media, as well. For example: cultural trends and messages from the media already promote an unhealthily thin body image for women and girls. Those messages, in tandem with easy access to ‘pro-ana’ and ‘pro-mia’ (pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia, respectively) websites and an undeveloped self-image can create the perfect breeding grounds for an eating disorder.
Parents and mentors should take the initiative, and develop various non-obtrusive ways to broaden the perspectives of young people; for especially young children, and those in a transitory period, censoring or tracking certain types of media may be a wise decision.
Some suggestions for younger children:
•Watch television with your child. Feel free to discuss scenarios or ideas presented on the screen that may insinuate destructive or maladaptive behaviors. Be sure to remind him or her that it is fictional, and real people are often very different from those portrayed in shows and movies.
•Supervise your child’s internet usage. Everything in moderation: it is not a good idea to ban technology entirely, as such will create an environment ripe for rebellion. However, it is vital that the parent keep tabs on where in cyberspace a child spends his or her time.
•Block certain websites on a content or URL basis. Look into the parental controls on the television as well, and consider installing some sort of monitoring system that will alert you if your child attempts to access a site you are wary of.
•Promote activities that your child enjoys—if she likes to build elaborate sets of train tracks, let her. It allows her to have something about herself to be proud of. If he wants to play with dolls or action figures, let him. Again, both scenarios
•Save social networks for when your child is older; in fact, it is advisable to wait until your child begins high school to give him or her a cellphone.
•Discuss the explicit content found in many movies and television shows aimed at teens and adults. Again, contrast reality with fiction—programming for adults is just as fanciful as is the programming for children, just in a different way.
•Go over the basics of cyber safety, and don’t be afraid to discuss sexting. It happens, and it is more than likely that your child will be on some end of it at some point in his or her life. Get them in the know, and get them prepared.
•Talk about all the things you cringe to think of. Safe sex, sexual orientation, pregnancy, puberty, drugs, drinking—just do it. Help strip away the glamorization that all of the aforementioned are subjected to. Be frank and straightforward—your teen will respect you more for it.
•Don’t hover, however much you might be inclined to. Intervene only when you feel it is necessary. If you take a more hands-off approach, the occasions on which you do confront your teen will be more significant in their mind, and he or she will be more likely to listen to you.
•By the same token, be sure to make known that your door is always open. Make clear that you are the parent, and you are meant to act as a guide, the law, and as a party that loves unconditionally.
Parenting in the modern age is the same as parenting in any other age—the only difference is the prevalence of technology, and the surface changes that have happened to society as a result. Everything in moderation: that has always been the key to anything and everything of true value. Educate your kids on everything, to a certain extent—from media to sex to advertising schemes to peer pressure—and don’t be afraid. They’re more scared of you than you are of them. They are just kids, after all.