Friday, January 6, 2012

Raising Girls

Today, a few FB friends were having a conversation about girls' toys and I was a little shocked that one of them refuses to allow Barbie for her kids. Yes, I understand about the doll's shape being blamed for bad self image, but I don't buy it anymore. I've seen so many other images flashed in the media that are exactly opposite of what Barbies look like, that I don't think it makes as big an impact as it might have before. At one time it did reflect the media's portrayal of women. If you look at old ads from the 50's Barbie dolls look a lot more like those women back then than they do today. Compare them to ads in current magazines and you can see an obvious difference in the physical shapes that are preferred.  Truthfully, I don't like media's portrayal of women, but I don't think today's images are any more or less damaging than they were back then. Women in the 50's wore CORSETS! How unrealistic is THAT? Ans is that any worse than the skinny, boy-like, unfeminine shapes that are seen on the runway today? 

Anyway, here is what I had to put out there concerning my views on raising girls. This is an exact quote of what I wrote there.

"Here's my two cents worth. I used to have MAJOR issues with Barbie since I have had issues with weight and self image all my life. However, I have three girls. I did everything I could to give them as many "boy" style toys as well as girly things, but family members started giving the girls Barbies, and they loved them. We don't have all the accessories and cars and houses. Just the dolls and whatever they were wearing in the box. They LOVE to play with them. All of them. They also love their Pollys and their tiny animal collection and the blocks that they build into houses and zoos. A few years ago, we got a child sized suitcase full of Barbies when a friend's daughter outgrew them and there was wide diversity of skin colors and styles in there as well. They play with all of them equally. Even Ken. Although, Ken gets dressed up in dresses as often as not. (That's another story for later.) I pay attention to the games they play and the stories they create with them. I can be confident in saying the only thing these toys have encouraged is the desire to create and design more clothing out of interesting things. One of them wants to be a fashion designer and she uses the Barbies as her models. My daughters are all beautiful, confident, and secure with themselves. I have a sporty girl, a down-to-earth girl, and a girly girl. All three are unique and proud of who they are. Barbies and other "girly" toys have not undermined that at all."

At this point, my friend agreed with me that Barbies don't necessarily damage young girls. She played with them and she came out fine. Today's Barbie campaigns are all about Girl Power and Becoming Whoever You Want To Be. I can't argue with those kinds of values. There are other toys and product lines that are far worse with the images and values they project. The Barbies of our days are now the American Girls Dolls, but I think they go a step further in the wrong direction. Beyond becoming a status symbol for the rich families that can afford all the accessories, the amount of frivolous crap that is created for the dolls is simply wasteful, in my opinion.

However, my friend apparently prefers a different line of dolls who are more modestly dressed and project the values that more align with her beliefs. These dolls are similar in size and shape to the American Girl Dolls but they are specifically designed for Jewish families. I think Jewish dolls for Jewish girls is a great concept. Why shouldn't toys reflect who you already are and who you want your children to become?

This is what I had to add to my previous monologue.

"I agree. We have plenty of other dolls, too. I hope you don't mind my hijacking your wall for a moment, but I have to get one more thing off my chest. The thing that I have found that makes the most profound difference is keeping a dialogue open concerning the images they are exposed to. I don't always agree with what's out there, but I know they will get a dose of it whether I like it or not. All I can do is prepare them to be strong and make the best decisions. Way back in the Lizzie Maguire days, I talked to my oldest about what she thought about the characters and their decisions and even their fashion sense. When Hillary Duff grew up and started appearing in fashion magazines I bought them and let her look at them and we discussed what the "new image" said to her. Then came Hannah Montana. I suffered through all the episodes so that I at least knew what they were getting into. When Miley Cyrus released her "Can't Be Tamed" video, I watched it first (of course) and then we watched it together and talked about whether they felt it was appropriate or if her costumes were too skimpy. Just in the last few months my girls were talking about Demi Lovato and that gave me the opportunity to open a discussion about the rumors around her concerning depression, cutting, and eating disorders. Do I talk to them about this stuff every day? No. Do they think I am a big intellectual nerd because I turn music videos into learning opportunities? Probably? Do I think it makes a difference? Absolutely. "

The point I was trying to make here is that sure, some toys are just not what you want your kids to play with, and that's fine for you to make that call. But, I think you should not worry overly much about it because banning it doesn't really guarantee your children won't be influenced by it. If it is in your home, at least you can see first hand how it affects your children. They will have exposure to lots of other things that will make as big or bigger an impact on them than whether their doll has the same hair color as they do. If they are truly emotionally distraught about not being able to looking like a toy or not having the latest accessories, there is something much bigger going on than just playing with dolls. The dialogue you have with your kids will be a much bigger influence on the kind of person they will become. Your kids love you and look to you for guidance from the moment they arrive on earth. As long as you keep giving it, they will keep receiving it. Even teens who roll their eyes at you will still hear what you have to say (even though they don't admit it.) Daycare, school, friends, even family members will all have different ways of parenting and your child will be exposed to more than you can even contemplate. There is no way you can eliminate all of it, all you can do is raise your children with strong values so they are not damaged by it.

That said, I have to be completely honest, here. I have banned a few things in my parental career and I do not regret it. Making clear limits and sticking to them is one of the ways your children know you love them and are concerned for their safety. The key is to pick your battles wisely so that you only need to fight for something you REALLY feel strongly about. Make your reasoning known and stick to it. Even though they complain, they will respect you for it. If you really feel that Barbies are evil, then make your statement and stand firm.

Before my first little one was crawling, I had already decided that certain things are just too distasteful or dangerous for me to allow in my home. For instance, I don't like toy guns because I would rather my children grow up with a healthy respect for real guns than learn that playing with them is common. Unlike "realistic" cap guns and bb guns, water squirt toys and foam guns are brightly colored and do not resemble a handgun or a hunting rifle and will never be mistaken for one in a dark alley, so I'm fine with those. But, I don't allow them to pretend other toys are really guns or to aim pointy objects at anyone else. I'm a little crazy about it, but I also feel comfortable that my kids will never pick up a gun that they find lying around somewhere. When "forbidding" things, I have kept my list short and made my decisions clear and firm and I don't allow arguments about them.

I don't pretend that I am a perfect parent. I've made plenty of mistakes and been proven wrong more than I care to mention. However, kids are resilient and as long as you act out of love and concern for you child, no decision can ever really "damage" them. Mistakes get made and the way you handle them shows what kind of character you really have. Whether making rules about dinner time, friends, or toys, being honest and truthful is the best way to show your kids what maturity is all about. That really is the point of parenting, isn't it - to prepare them to stand on their own as mature adults?

Deb "Mother of Daughters" Lollar

P.S. A funny story regarding the banning of things - Apparently, I made the point so strongly against Spongebob that my kids were afraid to watch it even on a waiting room television. I didn't even say anything about it to them.THEY came to ME wondering how to handle it. Eventually,  we decided that they could just play quietly with toys with their backs to the television set until our business in the office was done. I do have to say though, the banning of said yellow sponge was as much for my comfort as because of the disgusting nature of the show. Aside from being excessively annoying, I still believe that the show was not created for young children and should not be viewed by them. It should have been stuck with Ren and Stimpy on Adult Swim.

No comments:

Post a Comment