Thursday, November 29, 2007

Another Battle in The War on Childhood

Well, it's gift buying.. I mean Christmas season again; and the rampant consumer war is kicking into high gear' til the end of the year.

We've already got almost all of our Christmas shopping done for the year (thank god); but most people pretty much got started last Friday.

Our big gift to the girls this year is a new computer (Chris has his, I have mine, and then there's one for the whole family, that the girls can use); and we've asked our friends to try and buy them age appropriate educational software.

...And of course.. because we live in the world we do today; we've had to give them a list of things NOT to buy under any circumstances.

Everyone who buys gifts for the girls knows I have a very short list of toys not accepted in my house.

Once upon a time the list consisted of just one item: one very blonde, very hated doll. Not that I have anything against dolls, but I hate Barbie. Not only is she unrealistic, her "accessories" are a bit ridiculous, and don't require any imagination for play.

Besides, to do Barbie properly there is a long, expansive, and expensive list of clothing, friends, vehicles, and playsets to buy. Honestly no parent should enter Barbie land without expecting to spend at least $500 on the entire world, and that's way too much.

But as much as I hate Barbie, I hate one toy line with twice as much passion.


Bratz are evil. Bratz not only have the Barbie-esque list of accessories, but as bad as Barbie is at showing an unrealistic adult woman, Bratz are far worse when it comes to pre-teens.

Bratz are like Barbies. They have the clothes, the friends, the pets, and the other accessories. They have the combable hair, the fashion shows, their own tv show, and the website befitting their rather huge world. Bratz are also marketed to 4 year olds and up, just like Barbie. And just like Barbie, they have a devoted following funded by parents who should know better.

But that's where the similarities end. For one thing, Barbie is specifically marketed as an adult woman, with adult friends and adult careers and semi-adult pasttimes. Bratz are teen and pre-teen dolls, with all of the drama and lack of responsibility befitting the age. Not only that but all of the Bratz dolls obviously don't hurt for money, wear extremely fashionable clothes, and have the typical obsession with fashion, boys, being pretty and wearing WAY too much makeup. Bratz are essentially Barbies with all of the most objectionable traits magnified and attached to even younger characters.

Of course what I hate most about both toys is the lack of imagination on the part of the kids. Names are already picked out, clothing styles assigned, personality traits pre-decided and professions and pass times assigned.

With both Barbie, and Bratz, the kids are left with no decisions other than what situations to put the characters in. Sure, that's a lot, but not as mentally stimulating as handing kids generic dolls then trusting them to decide who their dolls are, just like they'll figure out who THEY are as they grow up.

But this is just another part of a rather disturbing trend. MSM and toy companies know what sells. They know kids always want to act older, and feel older and therefore will watch shows and play with toys that cater to those wants. For example, our kids watch Noggin sometimes during the day. Noggin is a cable channel which very specifically plays shows geared towards pre-schoolers and without commercials. However after 6 ET Noggin turns into "The N" which shows older kids' shows; including shows about pre-teens and teenagers tackling rather adult problems like drugs, alcohol, and regrettably sex.

I wouldn't have an objection to that concept, if it weren't for the fact that the shows seem to advocate all of the above, rather than send messages about how such things can mess up kids.

Obviously we don't let the kids watch that kind of crap; as it's against what we're trying to teach them; but I wonder how many parents see kids' programming as universally safe and unobjectionable, and therefore don't pay attention.

Here's the problem though: while I agree that kids should be encouraged to grow up in many ways, the good parts about growing up are always glossed over or missed entirely. The "War on Childhood" is only a partial war. The culture warriors are trying to make our children not into adults, but into perpetual, oversexualized adolescents.

They are only waging war on innocence, imagination, and play. The personal responsibility, appreciation of consequences, and understanding of good decision-making, that are all critical to adulthood; are not advocated or encouraged, and are often discouraged, as is an objective view of reality.

These same warriors against innocence refuse to do the whole job, by conveniently leaving out the consequences of poor choices. Sex doesn't lead to STDs or teenage motherhood in their version of morality, and kids don't kill themselves with overdoses either. Kids are encouraged to engage in adult activities without the warning of what might happen.

Is there a way to successfully defend our children in the War on Childhood? Sure. It requires each and every one of us to act the adults in our kids' lives, by watching what they are watching, explaining true consequences, and instilling our own values.

However, don't expect the war to end anytime soon. Too many parents aren't paying attention and will learn too late what effect this massive lost of innocence is having on adults-to-be (or more likely, "never to actually be adults"). Many parents are already facing the consequences of their ignorance, with dead kids or grandchildren to raise. Don't be one of them.