Children maturing too fast? Control their media exposure

An interesting article on the Associated Press wire this morning about how children are growing up too fast: 10 is the New 15 as Kids Grow Up Faster. The quote that most jumped out at me is:
“Some of them are going on “dates” and talking on their own cell phones. They listen to sexually charged pop music, play mature-rated video games and spend time gossiping on MySpace. And more girls are wearing makeup and clothing that some consider beyond their years.”
What I don’t understand is where the parents are in this situation.

I understand the tension of children who want to be like their favorite teen idol or movie star, want to identify with the products and services that are oh so carefully marketed to them, a billion dollar segment, but where are the parents in this situation?
Even in the article, there’s “great concern” expressed by child development experts over this new trend of ten year olds who are maturing faster, but there’s precious little about parents who might just say “no” occasionally.
Here’s another good quote, another good reason to minimize your children’s exposure to media:
“Beyond the drugs, sex and rock’n’roll their boomer and Gen X parents navigated, technology and consumerism have accelerated the pace of life, giving kids easy access to influences that may or may not be parent-approved. Sex, violence and foul language that used to be relegated to late-night viewing and R-rated movies are expected fixtures in everyday TV.”
Our solution? Our kids simply don’t watch any TV at all. Well, that’s not true. Our 10yo daughter watched White Christmas with me yesterday because she was stuck on the couch feeling miserable with a cold. Still, even the worst scene in White Christmas is positively banal compared to even the typical advertisement on TV nowadays.
The way that parental permissiveness is presented in the article is quite interesting too, basically suggesting that the most permissive parents have the most popular kids in school, and that being strict de facto removes your kids from the chance to be considered cool or popular.
At least there’s one person who has a similar attitude we have regarding pre-teen dress: “parents sometimes gravitate to one of two ill-advised extremes — they’re either horrified by such questions from their kids, or they “revel” in the teen-like behavior. As an example of the latter reaction, she notes how some parents think it’s cute when their daughters wear pants or shorts with words such as “hottie” on the back.”
As you might expect, we don’t let our 10yo dress in “sexy” (well, I call them “slutty”) clothing, but you know what? She doesn’t want to. She’s happier in a modest t-shirt with a unicorn on the front than any belly-baring clothing, and she finds the whole idea of words emblazoned on your bottom to be a very strange form of advertising. And I agree!
I read a few days ago that the average person is now assaulted by an average of 3000 commercial messages every day. I’d like to think that perhaps by controlling our family’s media interaction, by only getting our children advertising-free magazines to read, and by emphasizing books over TV and video, we’re at least cutting that in half.
How about you? Do you think that pre-teens are growing up faster than they used to, and if so, what are you doing to try and ease things in your own household?

6 comments on “Children maturing too fast? Control their media exposure

  1. I find that people I talk to who are fully involved in media consumption, primarily through television, act as if there is nothing they can do about it. Like it’s inevitable that their children will have Britney Spears as a role model!! I think what it points to is the parents being unwilling to look at their own level of media consumption. To some degree it IS cute when children act like (imitate) adults, but hottie shorts? Oh no. I don’t believe a child would willingly choose something like that unless they were imitating what they have been shown or were encouraged by their parents.
    Our kids are still toddlers, but we the only media they see is either where we sometimes can’t avoid it (those infernal TV’s in restaurants) or on special occasions like visiting grandma’s house. They don’t go to movies, don’t use the computer, etc. They get the National Wildlife Federation kids’ animal magazine, because it has no advertising. The one from National Geographic is filled with inappropriate stuff and a lot of ads.
    We will continue this when they are older, though I am willing to say they will someday be able to watch DVD”s with us on occasion.

  2. Well said. Funny you’d mention the National Geographic Kids magazine: I so dislike that and its terrible advertising that I’ve twice written letters to the editor and publisher about their advertising policy and finally we canceled the subscription entirely. It really reflects quite poorly on the otherwise splendid “National Geographic” brand. And, no surprise, I never received a response from anyone on their editorial or publishing side. I’m just one subscriber, and that’s less interesting than those big bucks advertisers like Coke and Nintendo…

  3. Dave – I have a very different approach. We homeschool and are very close with our 12yo son. He watches several hours of TV a day, plays violent video games, and dresses pretty much however he wants (not as much an issue for boys as girls, I recognize).
    And he’s one of the smartest, kindest, gentlest kids you could ever meet.
    Why? Because our focus is not on shielding him from those things, but on teaching him to maintain his own values and to choose and voice HIS truth in the presence of that.
    He has an account on MySpace. I’m his #1 friend and vice-versa. We talk about what’s going on when one of his friends’ bulletins suddenly start spamming porn sites and ringtones. We talk about phishing and online safety and appropriate boundaries.
    I could be completely deluding myself, but I don’t think so. I’m not saying this approach is for everyone, but it works very well for us.

  4. I agree with Scott Allen. It is almost impossible to shield our kids from all these things. They are bound to see it. So what we can do is talk and explain to them and be a good role model. If we don’t wear “sexy” clothes, they won’t either. That’s what my parents and I am planning to do that with my own kids.

  5. Dave,
    This is a subject I think on often. I have an 11 year old daughter who is nothing like the children described. Like your own daughter, she’s quite comfy in a t-shirt with a horse on the front and wouldn’t dream of butt-words on her backside. She doesn’t have a boyfriend, isn’t interested in boys except as tree-climbing buddies and certainly doesn’t have a cell phone or a MySpace account. I’m a mom of 4 and none of the children are given much in the way of tv time or video games. They are allowed some internet access but supervised and quite limited. Mostly to connecting with our relatives as we live in a different state. We home school using the Waldorf model. I often wonder if my kids don’t act in the fashion of other “modern” children (most especially my pre-teen daughter) because of the lifestyle we live or because she is, as has been suggested to me, a “late bloomer”. Since when has 11 year old still loving horses and puppies and not dating been late blooming? Are we that far off the path of the norm?

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