The deeply tanned Patricia Krentcil became the latest Bad Mommy of news cycle fame yesterday, accused of putting (and burning) her six-year-old daughter in a tanning booth.
The New Jersey mom pleaded not guilty to charges of child endangerment, and insisted that although she loved to tan herself she knew better than to put her daughter under the UV rays.
But that did little to stem the nearly gleeful outrage at this latest example of beyond the pale (and yes, people used that pun) parenting. Talk show hosts tsk-ed tsk-ed, and quickly moved into making comments about Ms. Krentcil’s own appearance. (The 44-year-old, whose skin looks unnaturally dark, acknowledged that she is a tanning fanatic.) Even Snooki - that’s the Jersey Shore’s Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, another tanning bed aficionado and apparently now a parenting expert - entered the fray, with some not very polite words to say about Krencil’s mom skills.
It was, all in all, a perfect mommy witch hunt. Which seems to be a favorite, and semi-regular, pastime these days.
There is a standard playbook for a case of the Bad Mommy. It can revolve around celebrity - Britney Spears is great, if she’s available - or just a regular, everyday mom. (Although preferably those Everymoms will be on a reality television show, and involved in something like toddler beauty pageants. But getting caught up in a criminal investigation works fine, too.)
Once the Bad Mommy has committed her outrage - tanning beds, extreme negligence, dressing their girls in tiaras, whatever - then the viewing public wrings its collective hands and wonders how any mother could be so... bad. Talk show hosts denigrate the woman. The Internet world buzzes with indignation. Experts talk about the state of motherhood today.
The problem is that if you look a bit more critically, these women’s actions tend to be pretty darn close to our own.
Journalist and author Peggy Orenstein explores this double standard in one of my favorite parts of her book, “Cinderella Ate My Daughter.”
As part of her research into the Disney Princess phenomenon, Ms. Orenstein spends some time getting to know parents whose young daughters are on the beauty pageant scene. Armed with her own sense of what kind of mom would doll up her prepubescent daughter to strut her little stuff for judges, Orenstein wrote that she fully expected to find these folks, well, crazy at best, disgusting at worst.
But it turned out that the beauty pageant moms and dads were really nice, loving parents, who just had a different (and maybe even not that different) way of looking at the world. Some of them were dealing with other siblings who had special needs. Some were trying to help their kids with confidence issues. Others just decided that rather than soccer practice or violin lessons, they would do this. She was surprised at her affinity with these families.
Since then, she has delved into the topic more critically. In one blog entry on her website, Orenstein posted photos of little girls all glammed up and asked readers to figure out which was from the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at Disneyworld (where toddlers can get makeovers to “magically transform” them into princesses), which was from the Sweet and Sassy children’s salon (a popular birthday venue) and which from Toddlers & Tiaras, the reality television show following families whose young daughters are on the pageant circuit.
You should check it out, but I’ll give you a hint: you totally can’t tell the difference. Yet the first two venues are considered - among a whole lot of people, at least - fine and dandy and cute, while the other is a Bad Mommy Headquarters.
Krentcil’s situation is not much different. (And again, she - and the New Jersey salon owner - say she may have brought her daughter to the tanning salon but never allowed the girl to go into a bed.) The commentators are outraged that a young girl would be in a tanning salon, but... have you checked out advertisements for children’s clothes recently? A lot of the white girls are tan. Unnaturally so.
And often rather sexualized.
Meanwhile, mainstream stores are all about spray tan for tots. They sell padded bras for 7-year-olds. A company called Jours Apres Lunes sells “longerie” - which looks awful lot like lingerie - for girls 4 to 12, with suggestive photos of little girls (pleasingly tan little girls) modeling the items on its website. Birthday “makeover” parties give little girls pedicure and manicures and dust bronzer on their cheeks.
But the commentators are outraged by a tanning salon?
Oh that’s right, it’s because of the health implications! Of course. And the legality - in New Jersey, children under 14 are prohibited from using tanning beds.
And sure, kids shouldn’t be in tanning beds. It’s dangerous. And needless. But you know, kids also shouldn’t be sexualized – and taught at a really, really young age that “sexy” is cool – so companies can sell more products. There are health implications in that, too. Check out our earlier post about the rise in plastic surgery procedures for teens.
The Bad Mommy isn’t the problem here.
But focusing on her is tempting, because it lets us get away with the sense that other moms do these sorts of things, not us. It’s good old Salem style. We get to avoid complicity. And we never have to take a hard look at what we, as a society, are doing to childhood.
My self-appointed grade? D.
I’d give myself an F, actually, but you know how grade inflation is these days. And besides, all those mommy books I’ve read tell me I need to be kind to myself. So D it is.
Most of the points came off yesterday, which was one of those days that started early and grumpily, with an immediately apparent need for a Do Over. For everyone in the house. For the the cat, who whined and woke up the baby early; the dog, who was hyper and shedding; the husband, who declared he was going to rid the homestead of all animals; the mommy, who pulled the covers over her head and insisted the alarm clock must be wrong; and, of course, the baby, who picked up on everyone’s vibes and decided to dismantle a 400 pack of q-tips that was somehow left vulnerable in one of the non-child proofed bathroom drawers.
I whipped out the iPhone (minus 10 points) in the parking lot of our local coffee shop where I had gone in desperation for latte No. 2. Or maybe 3.
“Do you ever feel like you just can’t do it?” I e-mailed one of my dearest friends, who has three children, including a newborn, and is quite decidedly even more tired than I am.
I checked the phone repeatedly until she wrote me back. (Minus 10.)
“This is how I feel almost every day for about 20 minutes somewhere between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.,” she wrote. “And also every time I pass a mirror and notice how bad my roots look.”
I felt better. Until nap time. Because, you see, the only way Baby M goes to sleep is with a specific mix of songs, played in a specific order, all organized on the... iPod. (Minus 5). And yesterday, I could not find this iPod. Panic. Total panic, I tell you. I tried playing the mix on my phone (minus 5), but I couldn’t figure out how to keep it from shuffling, so the songs were not in the right order – not the right order at all – so every time Baby started to drift off, the next song, not being the one she expected to hear, would wake her up and she would.... look at the screen. And point. And want to play with it. (Minus 15.)
So rather than nap we had screen time.
The nap never happened, although the squirming and fussing got much, much worse. Desperate, I eventually brought Baby into my office so I could indignantly e-mail Husband (minus 10) that I was going online to the Apple store right now because I didn’t care how much another iPod cost, I needed one.
And although I didn’t actually do this – I decided I’d wait for his reply (another minus 5 for electronic communication dependency) – I figured that since I was on the computer anyhow I would just take a teensy little peek at my e-mail. (Minus 10). And when I saw that I needed to make a call for work, I went ahead and did it, despite the overly tired baby who – of course – started fussing so much that the only way to keep her quiet was to (oh, the shame) give her the iPhone.
She actually texted her daddy.
“Kiln }aZE72&2f72,” she wrote.
“Huh?” he responded. “Did you give the baby your phone???”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” I said.
The scoring did not improve. There were trips to the computer, tasks electronically multi-processed, news glanced at on the e-reader. I noticed on my iPhone screen (sigh) that I had missed two calls from my mother.
“I hope just because it’s screen-free week it doesn’t mean you’re not checking your phone,” she said on the message, which I (of course) checked.
By the end of the day I knew I needed extra credit, and suggested we listen to the baseball game on the radio. (Actually, it’s mlb.com over the iPhone, because we are baseball expatriates and still like to listen to the Orioles, but at least we could keep the screen off.)
But then the O’s started beating the Yankees, and when that happens, well, you’ve just got to turn on the game so you can see it. Even the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood must have a Yankees-losing exception, right?
So we went to the computer and streamed the game.
D. D-, maybe.
Today, I hope, will be better. Because, you know, yesterday was not a peaceful day. And while I can’t blame the screens entirely, I know they played a role. Electronic addiction begets more dependency and edginess – even with all of these devices’ good qualities. (Long distance communication, for instance. Or napping.)
So here’s looking for grade improvement.
If anyone has any tips out there, help me out.
My son Sam has an idea for an app to help stop texting while driving: “When you’re driving and a friend texts you, the app sends back an automatic text saying ‘Sorry, I’m driving, I can’t answer your text. Back 2 u soon.’” Or, for phone calls, the app lets you record yourself in a message for callers that says something like that.
Sam suggested that when he saw I was writing about a new survey finding that 44% of 16-to-24-year-old drivers say friends are the biggest influence on them for curbing their texting while driving. It found that parents were the next greatest influence at 33%.
The survey, by the Ad Council, was released today for “Stop the Texts Day,” from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the US’s state attorneys general, and the Ad Council. It also found that 60% of those drivers said they’d texted while driving. Of that 60%, the majority said they’d continue to do so even knowing that TWD causes accidents.
On the solution side, 88% said a law against TWD would encourage them to stop or text less while driving, and 96% “said large fines, a suspended license and/or jail time, higher insurance rates and other financial and legal consequences would encourage them” to stop. Fining was a suggestion made by a commercial driver on the “Stop the Texts” Facebook page. He said that, when commercial drivers “get caught using a hand held device,” they get fined $2,700 and their company gets fined $11,000.
As for software help: There is a new game app for upping drivers’ awareness of their phone use behind the wheel. Maybe its creators will add Sam’s feature (I couldn’t find an app in Apple’s store which does what he proposed).
But it’s not just about phone use in the car: “Reasonable acceleration, smooth turns, and easy braking get better scores.” The app “keeps a tally of any phone use while it’s on,” so teens can actually show their parents how responsible their driving is. I like the game aspect.
AT&T has an app that does provide exactly what Sam had in mind – an “away text.” It’s called DriveMode, an idea from AT&T consumer advocate Shavonne Jones, who lost a friend of 32 years in a car accident caused by another driver who was texting while driving on a highway.
For now, DriveMode is only for Android and BlackBerry (get going, Apple!). AT&T spokesperson Andrea Brands told me it has already been downloaded 51,000 times.
For parents who are at home and want to know where their child is while driving but don’t want them to text their location, there’s Glympse’s tracking with a time limit (the tagline’s cute: “Share your where”); I like that its use is preceded by parent-child communication). For more TWD controls apps check out our friends at iKeepSafe.org.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Anne Collier blogs at NetFamilyNews.
The day Anna got her nose pierced, I spent the morning reading up on body piercing with regard to Jewish law. My daughter was about to get a small hole on the left side of her sweet nose, and I wanted to understand if she was adorning her face or mutilating it.
The rabbis historically have been divided on the issue of body piercing. Some sages liken piercing, even of the earlobes, to inflicting a wound on a body that belongs first and foremost to G-d. Others see it as an act of beauty because one can prettify the body with jewelry. Almost all of the sources I read were uncomfortable about piercings that drew blood.
Ken was unequivocal on the subject. He told me that, “if you had had a nose piercing when we met, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today.” OK, so obviously Dad had to be convinced that a small stud in the nose was in vogue rather than disgusting.
As for me, I bought Anna’s argument that piercing her nose has been the only notable rebellious thing she’s wanted to do as a teenager. And she’d been lobbying for two years.
“I have the perfect nose for it,” was one of her key points.
“This is your face,” Ken shot back.
I was no help to the home team when I said, “I’d pierce my nose with Anna if it didn’t look so ridiculous on a middle-aged mom.” Besides, I grew up with Latina cousins whose ears were pierced at birth. My Latina mother wanted my ears pierced when I was a baby, but was met with heavy (read: hysterical) opposition from her American mother-in-law.
For two years Anna begged, argued, and yes, threw mild tantrums all in the name of establishing her own identity. She tried to highlight the fact that she would be 18 sooner rather than later and wouldn’t need our permission to pierce any part of her body. To her credit, she also said that she wouldn’t go ahead with the piercing at any age if Ken ultimately objected. When he heard that he got choked up and gave in to his little girl.
As a related aside, let me state clearly that the 18-and-over argument doesn’t reliably hold water with her father and me. Yes, there’s a host of things you can do at 18 that don’t require parental permission, like get married, buy cigarettes and lottery tickets, and enlist in the military. And it’s a milestone to be allowed to vote. But the 18-year-olds I know aren’t about marriage and Lotto. You know why? Because their parents won’t allow them.
Anna did her homework. She found a reputable piercing/tattoo parlor to do the deed. Yes, piercings and tattoos seem to go hand in hand. But I don’t care how old my kids are, tattoos are not on the table at any age. Besides, tattooing one’s body is explicitly forbidden in Jewish law.
The place that I’ll call I’m Piercing Your Daughter, Inc., looked reputable from its Web site. It had been in business for more than a decade and had taken pains to emphasize that everything – needles, studs, gauze – was completely sterilized and disposable. I have to confess that I was feeling more and more nervous as Anna’s appointment drew closer.
The waiting room at I’m Piercing Your Daughter didn’t do much to put me at ease. It was decorated with scary wooden masks that sported creative ways to pierce the face. But at least I sat. Ken paced. Anna was too excited to notice anything. The song “Super Freak” was playing overhead. (I swear I’m not making any of this up.)
Owen, who was a walking advertisement for his profession, beckoned us into a private treatment room and carefully explained what he was going to do to our daughter’s nose. He was gentle and understanding as well as tattooed and pierced on every part of his body that was exposed to us. In addition to having his own nose pierced in a couple of places, he had a nose bullring. Yes, his septum was pierced. I caught Ken staring.
Nose piercing is a quick, simple and relatively painless procedure. It took longer for all of us to take our places in the small room and still be able to hold hands. Anna held Ken’s hand, and Ken held my hand. Owen pierced. Anna smiled. Ken flinched. And I realized I didn’t have what it takes to get my nose pierced after all.
Owen gave Anna a sheet outlining care instructions that she taped to her bathroom mirror. And the fallout? Not much to speak of. I’m hailed as a cooler than cool mom, and Anna is the ultimate hipster, especially when she wears her black-framed reading glasses. As for Ken, he’s secure in the knowledge that if Anna’s nose stud is removed, the hole will close up in less than a day.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Judy Bolton-Fasman blogs at The Judy Chronicles.
Whew, I’m glad that’s over – her pregnancy was really tough on me.
Two months ago she was already being called “heavily pregnant” so I can not imagine being as uncomfortable as she looked and still having 2 months to go.
Is it me or did she seem to be pregnant a really long time? Based on when she announced her pregnancy and her accompanying picture, I would have guessed she was already 4 or 5 months along. Then of course there was the whole posing thing and her tendency to over share…
Now I just wonder how much over sharing she’ll be doing about waiting the 6 weeks before she can have relations…or her daughter’s umbilical cord…or diaper details.
So what do you think of the name Maxwell for a girl?
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Lauren Parker-Gill blogs at Spill the Beans.
One of my resolutions is to celebrate holiday breakfasts. However, I’ve realized, that resolution should actually be framed as a subset of more general resolution, something like "celebrate minor holidays" or "find occasions for festivity." Today is May Day, a festival that celebrates the changing of seasons with dancing and maypoles. This weekend, too, marks another "minor holiday:" Cinco de Mayo, a nationwide celebration of Mexican heritage, and an important Mexican defeat of French invading forces that influenced the course of the Civil War. (And who could forget the not-so-minor Mother's Day, which is just around the corner!)
In any event, I followed this resolution on Leap Day this year, and felt I might share our experiences with you. Perhaps you will be inspired to celebrate other small holidays.
This year, I’d been feeling oddly thrilled by the approach of Leap Day, but it hadn’t occurred to me to celebrate it, until I heard someone else’s plan.
At an event in Dallas a few weeks ago, a woman told me that she was taking her four kids out of school on February 29 for a day of fun. I was enchanted by this idea, but I’m too much of a Hermione to pull my daughters out of school. Instead, I picked them both up and swept them away for an afternoon of special adventures.
First, we went to Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium in Times Square. I figured that was an appropriate thing to do: Ripley’s celebrates the unusual and rare, and Leap Day is fun because it’s unusual and rare.
Then we went to Dylan’s Candy Bar (a giant candy store). My husband doesn’t enjoy that kind of thing, so my daughters hadn’t been there before, and if you like that sort of place—my daughters and I do—it’s tremendously fun. The girls spent a very long time making their candy choices.
Truth be told, as adventures go, this wasn’t very ambitious. We barely left our neighborhood, and the entire outing lasted less than three hours. Still, it felt special, like a “treat.” Also, I know myself; I have to keep my resolutions manageable, or I can’t keep them at all. One of my most important Secrets of Adulthood…Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
One of the main themes of my happiness project is memory. Time is passing so quickly; I worry that I won’t remember this time of life, what it’s like to have children this age. My shorthand for this worry is the days are long, but the years are short (of everything I’ve ever written, my one-minute video, The Years Are Short, is the thing that resonates most with people).
Celebrating minor holidays is one way to make time stand out. Because this day was unusual, it’s more memorable.
Another theme of my happiness project is light-heartedness. Instead of marching around checking things off my to-do list all the time, I want to take time for silliness, for fun, for adventures. Something like Leap Day is a good hook.
Did you celebrate Leap Day? Do you do anything to celebrate other minor holidays?
* I’m a huge fan of Bob Sutton’s work, both his blog Work Matters and his terrific books. I was pleased to see that Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best…and Learn from the Worst has just come out in paperback.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Gretchen Rubin blogs at The Happiness Project.
Hi Parents! Today marks the second day of “Screen-Free Week,” an annual event where child development experts and advocates encourage you to turn off the television, stash away the iPad, hide the Baby Einstein CDs and generally keep your little ones away from electronic interaction.
I’m a big fan of this. Which is rich, really, since you’re probably reading this on, well, a screen.
And because sometimes, just to get these articles written, I will toss "Baby M" my iPhone (which she loves loves loves) so that she becomes engrossed in scrolling and tapping and just stops trying to switch off my computer, which is a new trick of hers, and one that says something, really, about that whole working-at-home thing.
She even posted something on Facebook the other day – a smattering of letters, which conveniently looked like a swear word – while I was doing an interview. An interview about the dangers of early electronic media exposure. Totally busted. Official Bad Mommy.
Anyhow, this is all to say I love screen-free week. I love it even though I know that for a lot of families, it’s really hard to follow.
Screens are just everywhere. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that one in three children under 3 have a television in their bedrooms, and that about two thirds of children aged 8 to 18 report having the television on during meals. (Forty-five percent say the television is on “most of the time” in their home, even if nobody is watching.)
But televisions are just part of it. We don’t even have a television here – yes, we’re one of those families – and the screens are still constantly a-blazing. There are computers, phones, music devices, e-readers. And we’re not alone. Mobile media use has skyrocketed among kids (in 2010 Kaiser reported that 66 percent of young people had cell phones, and 76 had iPods and other MP3 players), helping drive screen time to a whopping average 7 hours and 38 minutes a day among children 8 to 18, according to Kaiser. (And much of that time is “media multitasking.”)
The lives of even younger children are becoming just as screen-centric. The market is exploding for mobile apps and “educational” computer games targeted at the preschool set. According to Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group focused on kids and media, almost three quarters of the top-selling apps in the iTunes store are for preschool or elementary aged children. Those for toddlers and preschoolers are the most popular category.
Add this to the DVD players built into minivans and the baby laptops playing videos promising to turn your kid into a genius, and, well, you’ve got a lot of what people call “screen time” going on.
The problem, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), is that there is no proof that any of these “educational” apps or videos are actually developmentally helpful. And there’s some evidence that they hurt kids.Two studies have found that watching a program such as “Sesame Street” (and I adore Sesame Street, particularly Oscar) has a negative effect on language for children younger than two years.
So the AAP discourages media use in children under 2 years old, noting the lack of evidence supporting educational or developmental benefits, as well as the potential adverse health and developmental impacts. They also say that children develop at different speeds, so it’s hard to make blanket recommendations for this group.
But there's another aspect of screen time for kids: the adverse effects of parental media use on children under two years. This, AAP points out, is also a big problem.
Looking around sheepishly here.
Because it’s one thing to ban flashing lights and televisions and video games for my young toddler. It’s another to actually change my own behavior. To put away the iPhone. To fully acknowledge that despite my months of writing about this topic – of knowing this is a problem – my kid is more comfortable scrolling through my photo gallery than stacking blocks.
This is one of the reasons that groups ranging from the play organization KaBOOM! to the National WIC Association to the National Black Child Development Institute see Screen-Free Week as a family affair - an “annual celebration where children, families, schools and communities turn off screens and turn on life.”
I know we can’t really do a 100 percent screen free week here at my house. I’d lose my job. But we can do way, way better.
And so, probably, can you. Although we’ll let you make an exception for Modern Parenthood.
Happy Screen Free, everyone.
May Day, or Beltane, comes at the exact mid-point of Spring and, as such, calls for celebration. The first maypoles were pine trees, which were carried in processions to Ancient Roman temples to honor the goddess Flora. In Pagan Medieval Europe — especially Germany, England, the Slavic countries and parts of Scandinavia — a tree would be cut down and brought from the woods into the village by a procession at sunrise, while horns and flutes played. The tree, a maypole, would be festooned with ribbons, garlands, flowers, wreaths, and other decorations to celebrate Beltane.
I’ve had the good fortune to take part in a few Maypole dances, with family and community groups. The tradition remains a special and delightful one that honors the season in a way that takes participants back to a more gentle and pastoral time.
A tall tree branch or pole and something to anchor it. (Volleyball, tetherball, flag, umbrella and wooden poles work. 8-10 ft. is the optimal height.)
An even number of ribbons, at least one per dancer, in various colors, each 1½ times the length of the pole
Hammer and nails
Nail one end of each ribbon streamer to the top of the pole.
Anchor the pole into a pre-made umbrella or other stand, or dig a deep hole in the ground and make sure your pole is anchored properly in it.
Your maypole is ready for the dance.
The Roman Floralia festivals lasted up to a week and featured games, theatrical presentations, and floral-wreath adornments. During the early Floralias animals were set free and beans were scattered to encourage fertility. At different times in history, Floralias and May Day celebrations were bawdy affairs.
The holiday, which actually marked the first of summer for many years (with our current summer solstice being Midsummer), has always featured feasting and dancing, and often the crowning of a May Queen and King. In parts of England, and then in Puritanical America, leaders tried to do away with the Pagan holiday, but the charming, sweet aspects of the celebration have remained.
The maypole dance is beautiful and joyous, as the dancers weave ribbons weave in and out of each other’s steps systematically, until the ribbon-covered pole is left with a specific pattern. You may want to instruct dancers and have them practice in advance of the actual Maypole Dance.
A decorated maypole
Live or recorded music
Have participants each hold a ribbon around the pole.
Every other person should face clockwise, with the others facing counter-clockwise. (Have young children count off 1-2, 1-2 to determine which way to face.)
Dancers will alternate — first going in towards the pole, and under the ribbon of person coming towards them, then going out away from the pole, raising their ribbon over the person coming towards them. (To start, tell the 1s that they will go in and under and the 2s that they will go out and over.)
There is even a chant people may want to do:
In and out, in and out,
Weave the ribbons tight;
'Round the Maypole we will dance
To the left and to the right.
The dance is over when the pole is completely wrapped with ribbons.
Happy May Day!
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Susan Sachs Lipman blogs at Slow Family Online.
We can’t help it. You see, these fairy tale, poofy-skirted ladies are infused into American girlhood and American consumerism. And that has some fascinating, and hotly debated, impact on the way little girls are growing up today.
(For me, the Disney Princesses are of a particular interest because I’ve noticed them camping just outside my door. And on cereal boxes, bedspreads, onesies, toddler shoes, etc., etc. I’m convinced they’re waiting for my daughter to get just a little, teeny, eensy bit older before they lead me down a pink, frilly Khyber Pass of parenting.)
Take our quiz! Are you a Helicopter Parent?
Here’s the text:
“Have you noticed in many animated movies, the princess has to be rescued by a prince? Then they go off to live happily ever after. Ever wonder about what might be involved in happily ever after? What about going to college or getting a job or changing the world? Isn't it about time that a princess went to college? We are raising our voices in a request to Disney and Dreamworks – promote equality, independence and self-determination for girls. Send a princess to college in a movie – soon!”
It turns out that the women who created the petition were academic Rebecca Hains (who has since become one of our guest bloggers) and Cindy Brown, author of “A Girl’s Guide to Swagger” and the brains behind the Swagger online community for young women.
I caught up with Ms. Brown by phone recently and she told me that the inspiration for the petition came after the UK Royal Wedding, when Americans went gaga over real live princess Kate Middleton. (Ok, Middleton is really a duchess. But let's not complicate a good Happily Ever After.)
Brown said she started to wonder why Americans were so fascinated with princesses – and then heard from her friends with daughters that she didn’t even know the half of it. If you want obsession, they told her, take a look at little girls with Disney Princesses.
So Brown started reading up about Disney Princesses, and taking a critical look at the plot lines of Snow White, Cinderella, et al. She found the stories passive, to say the least. So what’s a princess to do? At least one who wants a bit more out of life than a kiss from some random dude?
“I thought, going to college is one of the things that a princess might choose to do,” Brown said. “And that’s the point, that they get to choose,” she said.
She contacted Ms. Hains, who agreed to work with her on the concept.
“I want little girls to have dreams that are more daring,” Hains said.
(Disney, for its part, doesn’t deign to jump into the Disney Princess fray. It has a standard response to all this talk, which it sent me when I wrote my article, “The Disney Princess Effect: Little Girls or Little Women?” for the Monitor’s magazine:
“For 75 years, millions of little girls and their parents around the world have adored and embraced the diverse characters and rich stories featuring our Disney princesses.... [L]ittle girls experience the fantasy and imagination provided by these stories as a normal part of their childhood development.”)
Take our quiz! Are you a Helicopter Parent?
At first, Brown said, the goal was to have 100 people put their names to the petition. When I talked to her this week, the number had already hit 104, and she had upped her goal to 500.
“To me it’s not just a gender issue, it’s an equality issue,” she said, admitting that she has a soft spot herself for some of the Disney Princesses - particularly Snow White. “Maybe this could move to bridge that “princess” divide. We can all agree that expanding roll models is a good thing.”
As for whether Cinderella goes to frat parties or chemistry class? That's for Disney to decide.
In her latest TED Talk, social work research professor Brene Brown at the University of Houston cites the work of psychologist James Mahalik at Boston College: “What do women need to do to conform to female norms?” she rhetorically asks her audience? Mahalik found that, in the US, the top answers were “be nice, thin, modest, and use all available resources for appearance,” she says. “When he asked what men in this country need to do to conform with male norms, the answers were ‘always show emotional control, put work first, pursue status, and violence’.”
Those survey responses certainly gave me pause. Think about these gender norms in the context of youth bullying prevention, whether psychological or physical. Violence is normative in males, we see. “Use all available resources for appearance” is normative in females.
Hmm. Bringing these norms out into the light may help….
- It may help us see that violence, vying for status, and striving for appearance ideals are far from “just kid stuff”
- It may help us ease the burden on schools and parents just a little, and
- It may help us stop wasting time on blame games and start focusing on solutions to social aggression, such as social-emotional learning, the lion’s share of bullying prevention. SEL, or simply social literacy, teaches us to detect and manage our feelings so that we’re able to interact more harmoniously and effectively.
The Youth Voice Project, which surveyed more than 13,000 students in grades 5-12 at 31 schools around the country, seems to bear out the appearance piece (it doesn’t distinguish between genders in its results). The Project also shows that marginalization at school echoes marginalization of all kinds at the societal level. It found that 55% of kids who’d experienced moderate-to-very-severe mistreatment cited “looks” as the focus of mistreatment and 37% “body shape.”
After those focuses came “race” (16%), “sexual orientation” (14%), and “family income” (13%). ["Moderate" was defined as “bothered me quite a bit”; "severe" as “I had or have trouble eating, sleeping, or enjoying myself because of what happened to me”; and "severe" as “I felt or feel unsafe and threatened because of what happened to me.” About a fifth of all students surveyed had experienced regular victimization (2 or more times a month) and of that one-fifth, a little more than half were experiencing moderate-to-severe mistreatment. Here's my post on the study .]
From recognition to compassion
What to do? Well, a significant first step, I think, is recognizing what underlies the problem and responding intelligently to that. To begin to recognize together the “ideals” we’re all conditioned to have and the pressures on everybody – male, female, young and older – to “fit in” and conform to them is huge. Right there, we have cause for compassion (for ourselves, too) and empathy. At the school level, it’s clearly going to be social-emotional learning, or social literacy, that really gets to the underpinnings of bullying (in social media environments, social literacy is logically just as essential to functioning effectively as media literacy and digital literacy). What we gain in social literacy we gain in safe, constructive activity in social-media as well as home, classroom, and workplace environments.
“The argument that teaching children how to recognize and manage their emotions should be part of the standard curriculum of schools is backed by science,” writes psychologist Susan Rivers, associate director of The Ruler Approach SEL program based at Yale University. Social-emotional literacy in school clears space for learning as well as relating with each other better. “A systematic process for building emotion skills and cultivating mutually supportive relationships is the common element among schools that report an increase in academic success, improved quality of relationships between teachers and students, and a decrease in problem behavior,” Dr. Rivers continues. “Teaching children to say no – to drugs, to alcohol, to sex, to bullying – has little scientific support.”
Laws and policies may provide some support, unless they have a strictly punitive focus. The best support they can provide is to promote socially literate approaches to schools’ investigations into and handling of bullying incidents, ideally calling for social-emotional learning at schools – in other words, adding social literacy to digital and media literacy instruction. These three literacies overlap more and more. They’re the three-legged stool not just of new media literacy but of efficacy and success in this digitally informed, networked world of ours.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Anne Collier blogs at NetFamilyNews.