Wednesday, April 06, 2011

7 Going on 13 - By Cara Potapshyn Meyers

My son wanted jeans. He wanted them because all of the boys in school wear jeans and because all of the skateboard “dudes” wears jeans. And my son wants to be the next Tony Hawk (for those of you out there who either have only girls or boys too young to be interested in skateboarding, Tony Hawk is the ultimate skateboard champion. Just thought you might want to know that).

In any event, my son thinks he is already a “tween.” And from an informal poll, so do a lot of other kids my son’s age. I have a friend who has a daughter (also age 7), who begged her Mom to take her to Abercrombie & Fitch to buy spaghetti strap tanks WITH PUSH UP BRAS IN THEM!!! What 7-year-old girl needs a push up bra?!? (From what I hear, Abercrombie & Fitch is receiving a lot of flack from parents regarding this item). Where does it end?? Or does it?

These types of scenarios are becoming all too common as our children are reaching for adult status. My son watches iCarly and The Suite Life of Zach and Cody, both which are meant for tweens, but as far as sitcoms go, they are fairly tame. When I brought these shows up in conversation at a birthday party recently, almost every Mom not only knew of these television shows, but admitted that their 7 and 8 year olds watch them too. I was shocked, but I wasn’t.

According to Diane Levin, Ph.D, professor of education at Wheelock College in Boston, the message that kids are taking away from these shows and entertainers is that buying the “right” items (i.e. my son’s jeans), or looking the “right” way, (as in wearing an Abercrombie & Fitch tank with a push up bra), are what determine a child’s value as a person.

This is nothing new. I remember haranguing my Mom to buy me Levis with the leather tag on the waist so that I would “fit it” with my peers. However, I was 14, not 7. Studies have revealed that girls who are obsessed with their appearance at earlier ages are more prone to take up smoking, become depressed and develop eating disorders as they get older. Boys, on the other hand, are getting the message that they need to appear active and tough to be considered cool. They also risk becoming depressed if they don’t measure up. I’ve heard 7 and 8 year old boys ask when they can “work out” at their parent’s gym! My first thought was, “Go outside and play!” But that is fodder for a whole different blog.

How, as concerned parents, can we keep our young kids, well, young kids? One way is to stay connected to your children. Your messages are far more influential to your children whether you think so, or not. And ask questions: Why does your child like to watch iCarly? It could be simply the antics that go on, as my son pointed out to me. The goal is to keep the lines of communication open, so that when bigger issues come up with your child (and they will), your child will feel safe talking with you about them. You don’t need to have all of the answers; simply acknowledging the social pressures your child has to deal with is enough. And that you are always there for them, without judgment.

As for my son’s jeans, he gave up wearing them for now. He has Sensitivity Disorders and said the jeans were too stiff and gave him a “wedgy,” (Hmm...let me guess where he learned  that word?). But there will be other items that my son will have to have in order to stay “cool.” And what I will have to do is remember back to my Levis with the leather tag on the waist! That’s all that we’ll need to get through another episode of childhood angst!

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