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Marketers, illustrators, authors, songwriters, TV producers, movie scriptwriters, journalists, buyers for mall stores, and more are currently competing with you for the right to teach your little girl what it means to be a girl. To all these people trying to shape your daughter and narrow her vision, girls are not much more than a string of stereotypes: Your littlest girls are perfect little angels, sometimes with a sassy twist; your elementary school girls are boy-crazy tweens, ready to be sold a version of mini-teendom that eclipses the wonderful years of childhood which truly belong to them; your middle school girls are full-fledged teenagers or at least teenage wannabes eager to conform to that CosmoGIRL!

Your high school girls are sold an identity story of the sexually free model-diva-rock star that the younger girls are supposed to look up to. We are two moms and friends and also developmental psychologists. We have been studying girls for more than twenty years now and believe there needs to be a different message other than a warped version of girl power.

That message is now corrupt and used too frequently to sell your daughter an image of being powerful; this means tons of money spent every day to help girls look powerful and feel powerful by conforming to a stereotyped image of an independent, hott, boy-obsessed, shopping teenager. Too little money is spent on developing the activities and programs and guidance that girls need to become truly powerful.

Each chapter will take you through the world of girls ages four to eighteen, a world that changes rapidly from Bratz dolls to sexy lingerie, from Saturday-morning cartoons to nighttime soap, from Raffi to rap videos. We will do more than show you what your daughter is being sold. We will help you to have the important conversations with her that must start at an early age. Our advice is simple: Talk to her about what you see.

We will not tell you to turn your TVs off or throw away her Polly Pocket dolls or forbid her to see certain movies or listen to certain rap songs. We cannot shut off the world. The images and stereotypes are everywhere and need to be addressed. You can start doing this when she is about four. We want to be clear about one thing before you take this journey with us.

That discussion has run its course and, frankly, puts too much pressure on girls to conform and be perfect even when authors identify striving to be good little girls as one of the problems.

Parents know that to raise strong girls they can try to get them to play more sports, talk to them about standing up to bullies, and tell them how wonderful girls are. In fact, be aware that every time the phrase girl power is used, it means the power to make choices while shopping! Some have said that marketers create impossible ideals that girls cannot live up to; we think marketers are more clever than that.

Even as they present an ideal girl, they make her appealingly vulnerable and offer aspects of her image to every girl with the purchase of an accessory or two for only a few dollars. Marketers know that girls do feel better when they shop, buy the newest lip gloss, and conform to current fashion trends by creating their own little makeovers.

A "Novel" Review: Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers' Schemes ()

Some savvy parents try to counteract the draw of these two forces on their girls but find that they, too, are pulled in by the pink and pretty stuff for the young girl as well as the glamorous hott and fun-looking stuff for the middle schoolers. But parents must learn to resist pop culture, too.


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You can resist without saying no, forbidding, and turning off the TV. We want parents to be confident critics of culture so that they can raise daughters who can resist what they are being sold. We believe that parents can help their daughters read the culture, recognize bids to turn her into a Stepford girl, and help her defy the marketers who are trying to sell her an identity story that they call girl power but that only makes girls feel powerful when they are conforming to the cute, sweet, hot, little shoppers they think girls should be.

Parents can see when the world around their daughters is sucking up that lovely youthful energy and luring them to express it in ways that could box in their futures. Parents know that their girls are up for grabs, enticed into the commercial culture through more than advertisements. If parents are better informed, though, and learn how to talk with their daughters—to listen more closely to their views and to express more clearly their own thoughts and feelings—they can compete with the consumerism, the market, and the media.

By the time your child is four years old, she has probably watched tens of thousands of advertisements, most of them designed to appeal to her little heart and mind.

Taking back girl power: Lyn Mikel Brown at TEDxDirigo

Marketers know how to reach young children because they employ developmental psychologists to conduct research on what kids desire and respond to. Plain and simple, marketers study children to understand what will grab their attention and make it more difficult for parents to point their children in healthier directions. Psychology provides the research on the emotional hooks they use to get them to buy—humor, a visual delight, or a promise of happiness, friendship, competency, or power.

And girls? Well, of course it depends. Old messages about being soft, sweet, and lovely in pink have all but taken over consumer girl world. The sheer volume and uniformity of the pink-and-pretty message ensures that little girls are especially invited into this world. Just as more opportunities have opened up for little girls, they also are being presented with pre-makeup glitter and lip gloss, pre-perfume fragrances, spa treatments for their stuffed animals, room decor for their dolls, accessory-making craft kits, and pretend purses with credit cards.

Imagine turning on the TV, flipping through a catalog, choosing a birthday card, or shopping in a grocery store and believing that every slogan you hear, every image you see, and every face that smiles back at you is absolutely real, good for you, trustworthy, and true. It is the world of someone unable to understand the intentions of advertisers and who believes that what she sees and hears is the way things are.

It is critical that parents realize how deliberate and pervasive the messages targeting their children are and how defenseless little ones are to the powerful effect of seeing their favorite TV character on cereal and juice boxes, fruit snacks, shampoos, yogurt, T-shirts, sleepwear, and toys. Children are also encouraged to nag and pester their parents for the products that showcase them.

Every day on Nick Jr. As girls grow older, the messages change in interesting ways. Little girls become tweens before you can blink an eye and corporations are delighted with the buying potential of girls as young as seven or eight. Tween—a combination of teen and between—is a marketing concept developed in the eighties to get kids, primarily girls, to continue buying toys. When the top age of toy users dropped from twelve to eight, toy stores started offering diva dolls, makeup, jewelry craft kits, and room decor to encourage girls to identify with issues and products older than they are.

The early marketing reference to tweens identified kids between the ages of eight and fifteen, which gives us an idea of just how out of touch with the development of real kids the marketers initially were. A parent of a girl in this age range knows what a ridiculously wide gap this is. What does a third grader have in common with an eighth grader other than being a potential target for the same products?

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As a psychological category tween falls short; as a marketing strategy it is brilliant. No, they leave that to you. Another blink and your preteen has become a middle schooler. Parents are generally aware that this is a tough time for kids, a time of transition, a time when they anxiously struggle to fit in and appear normal, and when schools include in the curriculum sex education and drug education along with math, language arts, and social studies.

Most parents are stunned at the world their middle school children confront every day thanks to media and marketing, some of it even in their classrooms! Middle schoolers are the new teens. They are invited into a teen lifestyle, a teen existence actually, that used to be the stuff of high school. But are these sixth, seventh, and eighth graders really the new teens, or are they only so to the marketers who want to broaden their markets? Is the move to middle school such a very big leap, or are there ways for them to grow up a little bit at a time without checking into the Cosmo-Elle hotel?

And the image of teen girlhood sold is more limiting than parents could ever imagine. Instead of princesses and fairies, girls are told they can be special in new ways. At a time when daughters could be developing skills, talents, and interests that will serve them well their whole life, they are being enticed into a dream of specialness through pop stardom and sexual objectivity that will derail other opportunities. While fantasies of fame and fortune are typical and harmless at this age, the investment in a lifestyle that imitates and works toward getting attention and power through looking good and attracting boys can be harmful.

Another way of being special is, ironically, by fitting into some category. The teen magazines that middle school girls read, for example, constantly ask them to put themselves in a box. Are you this kind of girl or that kind of girl?

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Are you a Jessica or an Avril? Are you a girly girl or a tomboy? Are you a glam girl or a nerd? Some of the categories are appealing, but they offer phony choices. It is hard to visualize that kind of girl. We are aware that early adolescence is a time when girls begin to openly challenge their parents as well as tune them out, believing that older girls have much more to teach them.

It is remarkable that girl power continues to be presented to them without any reference to women of power in their lives. Girls also pick up on the power a girl can get from being a model, a pop star, or a diva on TV. Parents can learn to combat this narrow view of the world that TV and movies promote to girls this age, a view that tells girls separating and individuating means leaving behind the love and support of family. Research tells us that middle school girls need and want good relationships with their moms and dads. That makes it all the more important for parents to be savvy about the world their daughters are living in.

They can then be players in their world, not nerdy tagalongs. Why not do it with her? Not all teenagers have been raised to resist, and not all want their parents to be the ones to point out that they are being manipulated, fooled, or made to conform.

Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers' Schemes

Above all, teens want to believe that every choice they make comes from their unique independent selves. The best way to work with teen daughters is to be with them in their world, share observations, and point at the culture and not directly at her fishnets, her music, or her slang. What used to be sexual innuendo and suggestive is now crass and direct and contains references to a variety of sex acts. We see this in the clothing marketed to them as well as the music they listen to.


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While their little sisters copy them and try to be like high school girls, high school girls are looking at the images of adult women on TV and in movies, magazines, and music videos; the overwhelming number of these images are supersexy, superhot. To be for the boys, you look good for them, you perform sex acts for them, and you support them as friends and girlfriends. Remember that feisty girl you knew in kindergarten? The one who was independent and could think for herself? A leader? Well, this image has been co-opted and sold to girls as a male image. While the girls who are for the boys are given status and privilege for their looks and their sexiness, these girls are promised status and privilege by joining with guys to diss girls and all things female.

These are the current avenues they are offered to self-esteem. That is why people have begun to take a second look at the whole concept of self-esteem. One mother wrote to us: My daughter loves giving oral sex to boys. It makes her feel good about herself, and it gives her pleasure to do it. And there are alternatives to these two types of girls that your daughter can embrace. One alternative is the observer. The observer takes in the culture without wearing it.