The viral marketing strategies of large corporations are teaching today’s children to treat themselves and others as objects and have affected how kids learn, Greenport native and award-winning author Diane Levin.
The early childhood development expert, discussed her book, “So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids” at the Congregation Tifereth Israel in Greenport on Sunday evening. Levin said she sees the escalation of violence, bullying, commercialism and the sexualization of young girls as interrelated.
“Don’t blame the parents, blame the marketers. Parents can learn how to control the message better, but they can’t totally protect the children from the onslaught of the message,” said Levin.
Levin said the problems began with the deregulation of children’s television in the 1980s. Prior to the deregulation, marketing toys based on television shows was not allowed.
Suddenly boys' toys based on warplay such as G. I. Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and He-Man were the rage. Popular girls’ toys included the Care Bears, My Little Pony and Rainbow Brite.
The girls’ toys, according to Levin, were not nearly so successful until they injected fashion and sexuality into the marketing of dolls such as Barbie and Bratz.
Not to be outdone, Disney worked with anthropologists and came up with a huge marketing gimmick, the Disney Princesses, and used Miley Cyrus to urge young girls to grow up fast and be rock stars.
The message is clear, according to Levin; you must be beautiful and sexy to become popular. “Girls are supposed to look like women and women are supposed to look like girls,” she said.
Levin has been researching media and popular culture’s influence on childhood for more than 25 years. When she started out, she thought she could “change the world,” and now she believes she can make it a “little better than what it is.”
Children are exposed to a lot of screen time, television, computers, cell phones, and video games, so she feels parents need to start preparing their children as infants for the messages they will see. There is no way to block popular culture from children, but Levin thinks parents can control the message better.
“We need to create a culture where regulation will improve the culture, not make it perfect,” Levin said.
Parents need to create rules and regulations and protect children from overexposure to the wrong messages. Teach children how to play at a young age rather than stare at a screen, so they will learn how to self-regulate and make better choices when they are older. Levin also believes that discussing sex in an age-appropriate manner with children is important because, if parents do not, popular culture expose children to inappropriate messages.
Levin said the bottom line is that parents need to stay connected with their children and develop relationships in which the children feel comfortable communicating with them about sex and sexuality.