Marketers Making Parenthood Harder or Is It the Same As It Ever Was?

These ain't your grandma's dolls.

If there’s one thing all parents would likely agree upon, it’s this: parenting ain’t the easiest gig in the world. To have kids who turn out “well,” parents need to put in a whole lot of effort and hope for a whole lot of luck. Because, ultimately, all we can do is all we can do. So many things are simply out of our control.

One of them is the onslaught of marketers who many feel are pushing sexuality on girls at a younger age than ever before. But are such cultural realities really making parenting harder, or is it simply, to borrow a phrase from the Talking Heads, the same as it ever was?

That was the question I was left with after reading an interesting article on USA Today last night. In trying to answer that question, there is much to consider—first and foremost, the overwhelming number of products that I wouldn’t be so keen on my daughters discovering.

Exhibit A: padded push up bras from Abercrombie & Fitch. Then, there’s Wal-Mart‘s new line of makeup for tween girls. And don’t forget “Bratz” dolls (which always struck me as odd little shrines designed to honor the Pamela-Anderson gods).

There’s little doubt, at least in my mind, that all of these products do, indeed, thrust sexuality down the throats of little girls. (Possibly a bad metaphor there.) But didn’t parents of generations past feel the exact same way about many products of their day? I mean, who do you think it was that inspired Bratz? Why, Barbie, of course, who was unveiled first in 1959. And she wasn’t without her fair share of controversy.

According to Wikipedia: “In 1963, the outfit ‘Barbie Baby-Sits’ came with a book entitled How to Lose Weight which advised: ‘Don’t eat!’ The same book was included in another ensemble called ‘Slumber Party’ in 1965 along with a pink bathroom scale reading 110 lbs., which would be around 35 lbs. underweight for a woman 5 feet 9 inches tall.” (Barbie, on a 1/6th scale, is 5 feet 9 inches.)

Yet, the experts quoted in the USA Today piece seem to believe that today’s parents win the raw deal contest hands down.

“It’s a hard time to be raising children,” says Susan Linn of the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. “No generation of parents in history has dealt with this $17 billion (children’s product) industry working day and night to bypass parents and target children with messages that undermine parental values.”

Linn’s right when she says that no generation of parents have ever dealt with a “children’s product” industry as large as it is now. But that’s capitalism, folks. Virtually every single market is bigger than it was a generation ago. And virtually every single market relies upon tactics which are far more aggressive than they were in the past.

“When we were growing up, parents only had television to worry about,” Linn says. “What parents are dealing with today that’s unprecedented is the convergence of ubiquitous screen media and unfettered, unregulated commercialism. The market is so crowded today, with so many channels and so many platforms, that people have to be outrageous just to get noticed.”

But what about the generation of parents who had an analogous gripe— the ones who lamented the television and longed for the days when all parents had to contend with was the radio? Or those who lamented the fact that there was even radio at all? Because goodness knows they lost a bit of censorship control once the radio came along.

But even if you believe, as I do, that parenting is no more or less challenging for us than it has been for those who parented before us, it’s hard not to read the entire piece without coming away depressed. But for every doom and gloom point made, I saw a counterpoint.

For example, marketers aim their commercials at kids as the kids are the ones who pester parents until the questionable product is bought which brings about “premature adolescent rebellion.”

But, I’d be willing to be that rebellion has been coming earlier and earlier for generations. And don’t tell me that today’s marketers are the first ones to figure out that kids can pester parents pretty darn effectively. Because I was a pretty solid pesterer back in the day, and odds are it was due to the efforts of a balding forty-year-old, marketing type.

“At least seven” studies show that kids who see sexual content at a young age are more likely to engage in sexual activity. Given how much sexual content there is, not to mention how many different media sources which deliver it, the message here is that this generation of kids will be having sex a bit earlier than the previous one.

Am I missing something? Couldn’t the same be said for virtually every single generation since like 1900?

One elementary school teacher quoted in the article says she’s seen girls as young as five emulate Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga, meet Madonna. Madonna, meet Lady Gaga.

And in a related story, my mom thought it sucked when I used to sing “If you want my body and you think I’m sexy, come on, Sugar, let me know,” when I was eight. Though, admittedly, she did prefer that to “We made love in my Chevy van and that’s alright with me.”

I guess the Lady Gaga story just doesn’t surprise me. Though I did nearly faint when I saw that my (then) eight-year-old daughter had Googled the words to Katy Perry‘s California Gurls—Snoop Dogg’s part: “All that ass, hanging out.” Lovely.

But the fact that my daughter did that doesn’t, to me, mean that my job is harder than my mom’s job was. And I certainly don’t blame marketers for whatever difficulty there is. I think the problem is bigger than that. And so, too, does Linn. Or at least so I gathered when I read the following quote: “This is a societal problem, and we have to tackle it that way.”

Now we’re getting somewhere. It is a societal problem. And though societal problems evolve throughout the generations, their themes tend to remain the same. And that’s why I don’t think parenting is any harder now than it was before.

Still doesn’t mean I’m letting my daughter get one of those Bratz dolls…

What do you think? Is it harder to be a parent today than it was in the past?

Image: Wikipedia

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