Kids · Life's Challenges · Mothers and Daughters · Parenthood

Raising Kids In A Lowering World

I’m a mother to an 8-year-old girl and I’m really concerned about what the world is telling her. (I have no son, but I know they’re also faced with mixed messages and poor role models on a daily basis.)

My little girl wakes up wanting to shine. She wants the world to see her beautiful spirit and for others to shine along with her. Crass advertising and TV have not yet spoiled her from just being her unique self. She takes her teddy bear to school for PJ day, and isn’t yet afraid of being laughed at for being different.

Sadly, I know that might change. It’s part of growing up, and I’ll try to deal with it. I’ll tell her it’s okay to be herself, and encourage her to try things, all kinds of things, that build self-confidence.

But the world for little girls has changed in my lifetime. Almost everywhere, every day, media targets her, overtly telling her that she must change who she is. She must present herself to the world differently than how she feels inside. The real, natural her isn’t right; isn’t good enough.

My girl likes cats and bugs, and teddy bears and fairies, and unicorns. Yes, she also likes pop music and videos, which I scrutinize before letting her listen to and watch. She likes texting her cousins on my phone and using the Apps I approve on my iPad. She likes doing ‘cool new things’ – and that’s where confusion enters her young mind.

I can only guard her so much. I must give her space to grow and discover things on her own. So, I let her play a fashion App that covertly tells her that girls are more popular (and richer in this game!) if they wear knee-high boots and leather corsets. At first I thought it was harmless, like playing paper dolls, right? I momentarily forgot that fantasy and cartoons still deliver a real message to a real kid.

I let her ‘buy in’ (we paid for that App!) to the ‘image is everything’ mindset. Then she was confused even further weeks later, when she saw a young celebrity on a magazine cover at the grocery store. This celebrity is a person my daughter thinks she’s supposed to admire, but in the photo, she was grinding her almost naked bum against a man’s crotch. ‘Why did she do that, Mommy?’

What do I say?  “Sex sells, honey, sex sells.”  No. But I tried hard to explain, using the words “attention” and “fame-seeking.” She was silent the whole drive home.

I don’t allow her to watch music videos (ok, maybe Alvin and the Chipmunks) but I see that same celebrity singing her latest hit, swinging naked on a wrecking ball while sensually licking a sledgehammer.

The song is beautiful. Why can’t the artist rely on her voice to sell it? Sadly, she doesn’t. And despite my no-videos rule, my daughter will likely see it since several of her friends have iPods. I know she’ll ask me, “Why did she do that, Mommy?” Again, what do I say?

She’s in a world that tells little girls to sing half-naked on stage, and to wear lacy bustiers and panties saying, “Call Me.” Wait a second… I was 12 when I saw Madonna sing, ‘Like A Virgin,’ but never once thought I had to wear fishnet stockings and a tin bra to get a man’s attention. (Ok, I did think it’d be a pretty cool Halloween costume).

But my concerns, and those I’ve heard from many mothers, are justified.

Instead of tweeting and commenting our rage about all this, parents should focus that time and energy on family life. We must keep an honest, open dialogue with our children, loving and respecting them for who they are; making them believe they’re already good enough as themselves.

We can’t stop the pop culture machine. Media will always try to teach girls to buy more stuff to be, ironically, less than they are, to grab attention. But if we constantly remind our individual girls that simply being who they are will make them stand out, they’ll grow up just fine.

Of course, they’ll still want an extravagant gown for their wedding day—you simply can’t un-program years of Say Yes To the Dress—but underneath it, they’ll be happy and confident in their own skin.

HandK2

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15 thoughts on “Raising Kids In A Lowering World

  1. What a beautiful and inspiring post Heather! Totally agree – giving you a high five from afar. Love the mother-daughter picture at the bottom. So important to have open dialogue. Teaching others to know they are beautiful and worthy just the way they are is so important. You aren’t just talking about it, you are also showing her by your actions as she looks up to you 🙂 Way to go!

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  2. The greatest gift we can give today’s young girls is self-confidence. It is more important to be good with WHO you are, than how you look. As a society, we need to change our focus to the inner – rather than the external. And we need to start today….with our girls….one baby step at a time….by example…..like you’re doing, Heather. We women of today need to step up to the plate now. Unfortunately, there are too many of us still lingering over our images in the mirror or plumping up our fake breasts, to realize the damage and danger of these messages. Wonderful post, Heather. And a beautiful image of you and your daughter! p.s. Rec’d your book – can’t WAIT to sit with it on Sunday morning with a hot cup of coffee for a good read. Thanks again. xoJulia

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  3. Hi Heather.
    Bringing up children in today’s world certainly isn’t easy. My four – two girls and two boys – are adults now, three of them with children of their own, but I can empathise with your feelings. Media and peer pressure were powerful in their formative years (late 1970s onwards), but we followed much the same path as you. Constant reassurance that they were wonderful as themselves; listening to them and talking through problems; keeping a close eye on what they were watching…..Of course, there was not the same pressure from technology or music videos that are totally inappropriate. I have never been afraid to tell my children and grandchildren just how much I love them….I’m sure your lovely girl knows that she has your unconditional love too.

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  4. So well said. My 8 year old wants to dress like the teens on any Disney Channel show, Shake it Up, Austin and Ally etc. I keep telling her she’s too young. A couple of years ago, we had an interesting conversation while sitting on a ride at a fall fair. We played a game of “classy or Trashy” and used real life examples in front of us. While she has been known to declare to the entire women’s change room at the Y that my clothes are “disgusting” (because I like plain, tailored clothes) she was also able to accurately nail which outfits were classy and which were…well, not.
    She adores Hannah Montana, thanks to the magic of re-runs. We’ve had some awkward conversations as she tries to process what she is seeing. Her only comment was “didn’t she know she was going to be on stage, mommy? She forgot her clothes”.
    The sad thing to me, is that the lyrics to the Wrecking Ball song are powerful and beautiful and have a strong message that could have easily stood on their own. They didn’t need the construction materials side show. My Kid remembers every word of every song. I’ll have to start teaching her to listen to the meaning.

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  5. Great post Heather. She’ll be fine because you are teaching her to stay on solid ground and know how to find her balance. It’s hard though for parents to sort and filtre the messages that target our kids younger and younger. As a Mama to a boy who asks thousands of questions it makes my appreciate the FF on the PVR sometimes! 🙂

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  6. You guys look alike. But on a more serious note, I think sometimes a parent’s overreaction to a thing he or she perceives as being negative can be more damaging to a child’s thinking than the thing itself. The world being what it is, these uninvited images are out there, and it’s impossible to filter them all out. You and your daughter obviously have a great relationship. I can see it in both your faces. Teach her to be strong and to respect herself, and she’ll be fine.

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