Saturday, August 4, 2007

Parents Just Don't Understand

Parents Just Don’t Understand

by Venise Berry



I was on vacation. I was supposed to be relaxing. I wanted to enjoy a much needed break. But instead I found myself agitated and concerned. My mood eventually moved from sad to ready to scream! What happened?
I saw twenty-year-old women in bikinis, 16-year-old teenagers in bikinis, ten-year-old girls in bikinis and five-year-old babies in bikinis. I saw twenty-year-old women wearing pants or shorts with words like princess, sexy or gators sprawled across their butts, sixteen-year-old teenagers wearing pants or shorts with words like princess, sexy or gators sprawled across their butts, ten-year-old girls wearing pants or shorts with words like princess, sexy or gators sprawled across their butts, and five-year-old babies wearing pants or shorts with words like princess, sexy or gators sprawled across their butts.
Apparently parents just don’t understand because if they did surely they wouldn’t purposefully put their five-year-old in the same type of bikini worn by a sixteen-year-old or let their ten-year-old wear a pair of pants with the word juicy on the butt like a twenty-year-old inviting all eyes to focus on their behinds.
I actually noticed the trend some years ago when Daisy Duke shorts were popular. I went to ten different stores trying to find a pair of shorts that did not show the cheeks of my six-year-old’s bottom. I finally gave up and bought her shorts over in the boys department that summer (thank God she wasn’t old enough to complain).
I was recently surprised to discover that the process is called tweening I came across the term in a book by Juliet Schor called Born to Buy that I chose as one of the texts in the Media and Consumers class I teach at the University of Iowa.
Many industries, including fashion have developed marketing programs using what they call “age compression”. Schor explains it as the practice of taking products and marketing messages originally designed for older kids and targeting them to younger kids. Tweening through age compression has become prominent in TV shows, movies, advertisements, fashion, video games, everywhere we look.
Many of us knew there was a problem, but we just didn’t understand. Whenever I got together with other mothers (and some fathers too) we fussed and worried about it. How young kids seem to be too grown today. How concerned we are about the change in our kid’s attitudes. How ridiculous it is to have to deal with the typical rebellious teenage behavior at eight, ten or twelve years old. How sad it is that kids are not encouraged or even allowed because of societal influences to enjoy being kids anymore.
There is actually a fear among many of us that the whole world has gone sex crazy, especially with the 24/7 smorgasbord of sexual images and messages offered by the media. Research has not found a direct link but there has to be consequences. A 1997 U.S. Department of Justice Research Report on child sexual molestation suggests that sexual crimes against children are commonly underreported, yet kids are at greater risk and they experience levels of victimization that far exceeds those reported for adults.
Now that I understand I am constantly trying to balance concern with paranoia. I pay close attention when it comes to my child; where she goes, who she spends time with, what she watches on television, which movies she sees, the video games she plays, and what she wears. I hate the fact that life is a constant struggle between us, but I do it anyway because I believe babies should be babies, kids should be kids, teenagers should be teenagers and women should be women.