Psst, kid, wanna buy some eyeliner?

Recently I met a mom who’s had enough. I was in a mall washroom when I noticed the sticker on the tote bag of the woman next to me at the counter. I asked her about it, and got a quick lesson in what it’s like to raise children in a media environment that’s about as conducive to parenting as a strip club.

Thirty-four years old, Debbie has three kids. Earler this year she found a stash of make-up, thong panties, bras, and Cosmopolitan magazines in her tweenie daughter’s closet. “She’s too young for all of those things,” she told me. “I never thought that I should sit down and watch the shows she was watching — and when I did, I was appalled.”

Her daughter’s weekly TV routine consists of “One Tree Hill”, “The Hills”, “Gossip Girl”, and “America’s Next Top Model”.

“I didn’t realize how much adult content was in them,” Debbie said. “I’ve only ever seen commercials for the shows, and they seemed harmless. But then I watched them.”

She also started paying attention to the commercials that aired during her daughter’s favourite shows. “Most of them were for beauty products, or other products too mature for young girls.” Naturally, her daughter aspires to be like the girls on TV, all of whom dress scantily, wear heaps of makeup, and have lots of sex.

Between the shows and the commercials, neither kids nor their parents stand a chance. As advertising executive Barbara A. Martino is quoted as saying on the Media Awareness Network website, “We’re relying on the kid to pester the mom to buy the product, rather than going straight to the mom.” On the same site, James McNeal, author of The Kids Market: Myths and Realities, notes that “Brand marketing must begin with children. Even if a child does not buy the product and will not for many years . . . the marketing must begin in childhood.”

Couple that with cosmetic companies offering lines of makeup for tweens, and clothing companies such as the Gap, Mexx, and La Senza opening stores for kids, and you have a perfect storm of consumerism.

Then there are the commercials for movies. In a 2000 study, The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reviewed 44 R-rated films, and found “80 per cent were targeted to children under 17. Marketing plans included TV commercials run during hours when young viewers were most likely to be watching.” The TV networks do the same thing, airing previews for adult programs during youth fare like “Gossip Girl.”

“More emphasis is placed on materialism than education,” Debbie told me a few days later. “I’ve had enough of it in my house.” Her daughter, though, has not taken kindly to the new TV rules at home, which include a strict ban on shows her mom does not approve of.

She does have traces of guilt, however. Not because she’s restricting her daughter’s access to media, but because she’s typical of parents in a culture of limited time. With both mom and dad working and pursuing outside interests (it’s yoga and pilates for Debbie), time with the kids, as well as time spent overseeing what they’re exposed to, is at a premium. “Everyone’s plate is full, and the kids are at home, watching TV.”

Parents cannot be expected to monitor every aspect of their children’s lives, but they can get educated and take action. For more information on media, its impact on kids, and how parents can manage it, check out the Media Awareness Network’s website.

I wonder, though, if we adults aren’t just as susceptible, or if we too got caught as kids. After all, I did just have a 15-minute conversation about the evils of media and makeup, while Debbie and I both touched up our faces.

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