That sex sells is nothing new. That sexy images and ideas are being bought and marketed to younger and younger people is disturbing. Corporations have recognized the buying potential of today’s hottest target market: Tweens. Defined as 8 to 12-year-olds, tweens are not quite teens and no longer little children. But let us not forget, they are still children.
Today’s tweens are technologically savvy and avid consumers of media. Messages come at them from all angles, from TV and movies, from music and the Internet. Girls, in particular, are bombarded with pressure to look and be sexy long before their minds or bodies are ready for it.
One need only take a walk through a toy store to find examples of “toys” encouraging girls to act much older than they are.
Parents of previous generations criticized Barbie for her unrealistic proportions. Yet, compared with the onslaught of sexy dolls on the shelves, Barbie looks rather innocent. Take for example Bratz, a collection of heavy make-up wearing dolls dressed in trashy outfits, complete with fishnet stockings and belly-showing shirts. One Bratz doll even wears a naughty schoolgirl outfit. Another line of dolls includes excessively thin pixies dressed in skimpy little outfits.
Toys R Us now has a “fashion accessories” aisle, offering make-up and other items that belong in adult beauty sections. One of the more disturbing items on the shelf is a makeover kit boasting this tagline:
“Now you can see who you can be!” Clothing manufacturers are just as guilty of selling overly grown-up merchandise to tweens, from halter-tops to mini-skirts.
So what can parents and others do about the barrage of unhealthy products being peddled to tweens? First, don’t buy it! There are plenty of other options offered by responsible companies making age appropriate toys and clothing. Second, talk to kids early on about advertising. Let them know that ads are designed to get them to buy things. If they understand this, they may look more skeptically at ads directed towards them. Third, emphasize the important things: Brains over beauty, kindness over coolness, true friends over popularity.
### Erika Weisensee is a writing mom. She lives in Milwaukie and teaches journalism at the University of Portland.