Friday, March 26, 2010

Spring Break 2010

OK - this one's a short one...

Last week, my husband, daughter and I went to Florida for spring break. We wanted to stay part of the week at Daytona Beach, since my husband absolutely loves the place. He likes it 1) because he wants to relive his 1980s youth and 2) because they allow cars to drive on the beach.

We wanted to stay near the boardwalk and near our favorite little sandy seafood restaurant, the Ocean Deck, which is located right on the beach. Its doors open right onto the sand and we would often walk right in and order a plate of oysters...enjoying the sun and view of the ocean.

We checked in late - our plane didn't get in until 8:30 pm - so it was almost 11 pm by the time we reached our hotel. I chose the Mayan Hotel out of all of the 100 some hotels listed for Daytona Beach. Wrong choice... We were met at the parking lot by a security guard who said, "Are you sure you want to stay here?"

At check in, we were handed a notice that said in bold block lettering that we were not to open the bolted balcony doors, no balcony swinging, no letting underage drinkers into our hotel room. Oh boy...

Then the fun started. We got up to our room on the 6th floor (ocean front with no ocean access due to the bolted shut windows and doors). We were directly above the biggest college spring break party in Daytona. Six thousand drinking teens were crowded on the beach along with a huge blow up beer bottle and loudspeakers.

The music was so loud that we couldn't hear the television. At first, my 12-year-old thought it was pretty least when they played songs she knew. Then the HOTTEST A** contest began. We heard every blow by blow on microphone, punctuated by the dj screaming "PARTY!!!! SPRING BREAK 2010.... LET's GET *****!"

As we lay in the dark, waiting for 2 am when the police would close down the party, and quiet the crowd, I had to smile. Here I am writing a blog on media's influence on our kids, and I just exposed my own child to a wild and sometimes explicit drinking party. I guess we can't prevent everything. And somehow I think she survived it.

I think I survived as well... At least I definitely slept better the next night in the "older people's hotel" down the street.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Barney to Miley: Why Marketing is Scary

Walmart has a new line of clothing splashed with the name of Miley Cyrus. The line appeals to my 6th grader, even though she is thoroughly sick of Hannah Montana.

She used to love Hannah when the show first came on the air. She faithfully watched the Disney show, and we bought her a Disney marketed nightgown and lunch box. But the madness didn't stop there. Soon there were Barbie type dolls with Hannah's face, board games, clothing, accessories, shoes. Everything was Hannah Montana. Even my daughter was sick of it. They had marketed Miley to death.

The Hannah situation is nothing new. I started to catch on to this ploy early in Sabrina's life. I think the first was Elmo.

Sabrina watched Sesame Street when she was just a baby. I thought it was cute that they made a little plastic bowl with Elmo's face on it. Then I bought her an Elmo nightgown. We found a fuzzy red chair with Elmo on it. Soon, my toddler who couldn't even walk through a store could spot Elmo toothpaste from eight aisles away.

"I want that!" she'd cry, her little face lighting up with joy. "Elmo!"

Of course, I bought her the toothpaste. Little did I realize the problem I was buying in to. I've realized now that it never ends.

The parade of characters that have sold me stuff are endless: Elmo, Barney, Blue's Clues, Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Pokemon, even Harry Potter.

When we went to Japan, I was excited to get my daughter away into a different culture. We would be far away from Barney toothpaste and Hannah nightgowns, right? Wrong. Actually, Japan seems to have amped up the marketing craze that we live within in the United States.

My daughter was in her Pokemon stage at the time. I was trying to hold her down from spending too many precious dollars on collector cards and Nintendo games, when our plane landed in Tokyo and then in Okinawa. Even on this remote island in Japan, Pokemon was literally everywhere. The little yellow pocket monster appeared on ramen noodles, soy sauce, packs of dried fish, gum, even on the front of a local nursery school.

"You like me?!" Pikachu practically squealed. "You'll love my stuff!"

Maybe it is a part of being a kid today that our love for childhood characters is linked to products like cereal and toothpaste. But it's kind of a shame.

It seems to take away the magic and imaginary play of characters like Winnie the Pooh and Anne of Greene Gables when you slap their beaming image on a polyester nightgown.

It makes it seem like a popularity contest - the character with the most stuff wins. It encourages buying and accumulating and materialism - all of the nasty habits that we, as adults, try NOT to pass on to our kids. And it starts so young!

I don't really know a way around it. Maybe if we could ban our children from stores until they reach the age of 13? Or maybe it's just a matter of trying to keep our own indulgence of their desires under control. We live in a buying, purchasing, marketing world. It is easy to get absorbed into it, and to teach the habit to our kids.

Tough time to be a parent...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Taylor Swift to Lady Gaga

Do you know what your kids are listening to?

Recently, I had a discussion with my Communications students at MBI about the ways media is influencing their lives. One constant topic is the way media has become convenient and all-consuming. Probably the majority of my students carry some sort of phone. Most of them own Ipods. They are constantly tuned in, plugged in, connected in some way to outside influences.

This even affects my daughter who is in middle school. While she is not yet allowed to have a cell phone – although she wants one – she does have an Ipod. So do most of the kids on her bus. On that Ipod she has about 200 songs. Most of those I have heard – probably there are some I have not.

Children in this generation have more access to private media than ever before. What do I mean by private? I mean media that they can access or listen to as individuals – apart from their families. They are making these choices independently – in the privacy of their own rooms – on their own computers.

As parents, especially as Christian parents, this makes our job increasingly difficult.

When I was in junior high and first getting interested in music, we bought record albums. To my daughter – this seems like ancient history – but to me it seems like only yesterday. The first album I really wanted – and was not allowed to buy – was by Billy Joel. My parents screened what I listened to and purchased – and they could do this easily. At that time – lyrics were printed on the album. My parents – after reading a few mildly controversial words in Joel’s lyrics, decided not to allow me to purchase the album.

Today’s parents have a more difficult task. The choices our children make are more difficult to track. More and more of our kids have access to media in their rooms or even in their pockets. They carry it with them. When my daughter downloads a song onto her mp3 player – it is easy for it to go straight from the computer to her ears – with little interference or knowledge on my part. It takes work for me to know what she is choosing.

One parent started taking away her daughter’s cell phone at night when she intercepted a sexual text from her daughter’s friend – a boy. While the two weren’t dating – she realized that the type of talk that was going on in private between friends, was crossing lines.

Our kids have computers in their rooms and on their laps – some have access to the internet on their phones. They are registering for facebook and other social networking sites when they are underage. They are posting pictures we would consider inappropriate.

Parents must resist the trend of just letting this happen. We need to be more vigilant now than ever before. We must be aware and involved in our children’s lives and be conscious of the choices they are making.

While I don’t always particularly enjoy my daughter’s taste in music, I find that it is a good idea to have her plug in her Ipod and let us all listen to it once in awhile. If the music is played for parents, it will most likely be chosen with that in mind.

Some parents have limited computer use to the family room – where a parent might be walking by at anytime. The parents of the teen who was “sexting” as it is called – began to keep the teen’s cell phone in their room after 9 pm.

This influx of media has brought many good things into our lives – but there are dangers, too. As parents, we must be always on guard, doing our job to help our children learn to filter what they hear.