On a recent trip to the grocery store, my eight-year-old daughter, Elissa, asked if she could look at celebrity teen magazines. Recognizing a rare opportunity to pile my cart high with half-price soups in relative peace — while keeping her safely within view — I gave her the green light.
When I summoned her to follow me up to the cash register a few minutes later, I was hit with my first-ever request for a pop-star magazine. Instinctively, I bristled and told her, “Reading that stuff is like candy for your brain; too much and your head will turn to mush.”
Elissa persisted, complaining that one of her good friends already had “piles” of such magazines, so why couldn't she? We compromised; I told her that she was allowed to look at the magazines at the store or at her friend's house, but that I wasn't yet ready to buy them for her.
Driving out of the parking lot — the car loaded with groceries and kids — I reflected on the situation. I realized that I had surprised even myself with my negative, knee-jerk reaction to Elissa’s request. Why was I so opposed to my daughter consuming pop culture?
Later that same day, Elissa had a playdate with the aforementioned pop-star princess. While the girls played, I chatted with her mom, who is a close friend of mine. She commented on how her seven-year-old daughter's walls were absolutely plastered with posters of every current pop star, and said she worried that it might be an unhealthy influence.
In my view, there is definitely a rising prevalence of celebrity “news” and gossip amongst very young kids. When I was growing up, getting a glimpse at Hollywood was pretty much limited to getting your hands on a copy of Teen Beat magazine. But now — with most kids under 10 having at least some Internet access, and TV’s many entertainment shows holding the microscope even closer to the antics of celebs — Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez and pre-teen pop idols like them are highlighted much more.
As much as I want to protect them, I know that I can’t raise my kids under a rock. Elissa is already well aware of the pop stars — she often tells me of her conversations with her friends at school. She likes watching Carly Rae Jepsen’s video for “Call Me Maybe” on YouTube, and both she and her five-year-old sister know the lyrics.
I’m OK with that, and my internal radar tells me that the kids my daughters spend time with have a pretty balanced approach to pop culture, as do their parents.
But I do believe that kids are highly impressionable, and as a parent I feel it crucial to be aware of that. Unfortunately, there are a lot of negative media messages out there — particularly for young girls. It’s incredible how much my kids absorb and retain information from books and magazines; they have subscriptions to Chirp and Chickadee and both of them absolutely pore over each issue.
Call me old fashioned, but I would prefer to have my little girls read about the eating habits of a rare, rainforest lizard over the favourite snack of the latest-and-greatest pop star. When you’re a child, your brain is a sponge and the world is your oyster. Why waste that incredible potential on gossiping about shallow celebrity hook-ups or obsessing over how the stars do their hair and make-up?
Childhood is fleeting; the longer my kids can stay innocent and carefree the better.
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