Consuming Kids is Susan Linn’s compilation of the problem regarding our media, marketing and children. She interweaves real-life experiences and stories, research, and even consults those marketers. There is a problem, and she explores what can be done to solve it. Similar to Kinderculture, I am going to share some of my thoughts..
Next is, Chapter 8 “From Barbie and Ken to Britney, The Bratz, and Beyond: Sex As Commodity”. Here, Linn introduces the ideas of sexualization and adultification as they pertain to young children and what it means for our culture. This is a topic I have researched in-depth, and I will definitely post more thoroughly on it.
Growing up, I played with Barbie dolls. As I got older, I stopped playing with them and wanted to pass them on to my sister – 6 years her senior, I thought that was a real nice gesture. However, she never wanted my Barbie dolls. Instead, she wanted – and had—the Bratz. I always used to tell my mom they were “Barbie wannabes” and I never understood why she like them so much—after all, they wore way too much makeup, dressed in belly shirts and mini-skirts, and didn’t have any accessories to play house with.
My sister turned 17 this year and I find myself constantly going to her for advice on how to wear makeup or style my hair. Does this have anything to do with the fact that as a kid she was raised playing with toys like the Bratz and I wasn’t? After all, I wasn’t allowed to own make-up until I was in high school – and trust me, that was a fight; my mom was not into the idea of her daughter wearing eyeliner to school. On the other hand, my sister was doing herself up, “for fun,” in elementary school to “look like her dolls.”
In this chapter, Linn discusses the increasing amount of sexual messages being directed towards “tweens.” “Tweens,” she says, is the term marketers use to refer to kids who wanted to grow up faster.
“According to marketing wisdom, teens are ‘twentysomething wannabes’ and twelve-year-olds want to be seventeen” (131).
This idea is a dream come true to marketers; however, not so much for parents. This means that channels such as Nickelodeon, which were previously “kid friendly,” are now being bombarded with messages which are not so kid friendly anymore. In one anecdote, Linn tells the story of a mother mentioning that her daughter was exposed to a condom ad on a kid friendly TV station recently. That wasn’t the problem though, she said, the problem was it wasn’t one advertising condoms but instead one that advertised the sexual pleasure which came from a type of condom. Her daughter was just 12.
I think that while it speaks great volumes that parents are able to recognize the negatives in the media their children view, it isn’t enough since most parents aren’t doing anything about it. There are not enough resources for them to go to, and how can they fight off the media giants such as Viacom, the company that owns Nickelodeon. After all, the CEO of the channel said himself that it hasn’t changed since he started, now a feeding tube for MTV network, a not so kid friendly station.
If kids want to look more like their older siblings or celebrities, it makes sense that the clothing and accessory market for girls is targeting older pieces for younger girls. Linn discusses the website, Alloy.com, a site that sells apparel for girls and is also a website with articles and links to ‘kid friendly’ content. However, she points out, after viewing the site, it isn’t the case. I myself took a look after going on the website. I’d never heard of it so I was curious. On the homepage I was greeted with an image of a little girl who looked about 17 but was in actuality 12. She’s the latest Nickelodeon star – what happened to the Rugrats I loved growing up? The next article I could read was about the “fame, secrets and drama” behind “Teen Mom 2” – complete with exclusive interviews!
Glossing over the fact that running shows such as this on our networks gives the rest of the world quite the image of American teenagers, think about the image this gives young girls watching, or in this case reading about. This is a show that normalizes pregnancy as a teenager, and it rarely has consequences aside from the boyfriend getting mad or an angry parent or two. In more episodes than not the parents are actually helping the kid anyway. This is the content Nickelodeon feeds kids to MTV with, this is the content a website designed for young girls is publishing.
Overall, I think Linn’s point in this chapter is beyond the idea of sexualizing and adultifying kids – most people know that’s going on. The point is that parents have no idea what to do about it. The media is being overtaken by marketing and advertising that is far from age appropriate and changing the whole landscape of being a young girl. It really drove the idea of media literacy education for parents home for me. Kids are going to be exposed to this stuff no matter what, parents, on the other hand, are not exposed to ways to deal with it – and they should be.
After all, this is what we’re faced with now when it comes to being a “kid”…