I am an avid Pinterest user. I could spend hours scrolling through my feed repinning recipes, project ideas, clothes, and everything DIY under the sun. I love visual reference – which is probably why I can’t buy a cookbook that doesn’t have pictures. I’m addicted to the volume of inspiration and ideas that I have at my fingertips. I introduced my 11-year-old stepdaughter to it as a way to help her explore and capture her own ideas hoping that she would begin to develop her own style and interests. And I must say – THAT is certainly what has happened. Looking at her pinterest boards, though, is like staring into a little microcosm of the major impact the internet and social media is having on our kids, especially our girls, today.
I know we’ve been hearing it for years. I know I experienced the impact that ever more “racy” TV was having on kids first hand when my 9 year old son wondered why he couldn’t watch Family Guy or South Park like all of his friends. We see it all the time in how our kids interact (or really don’t interact) with each other on a daily basis now. My husband and I feel it every time we walk into a video game store and try to buy a co-op game that we can actually play together, in the same room. But looking at the evolution of this little girl’s feed recently made it even more obvious, and more scary.
I remember the really stupid things I did between the ages of 13 and 21. They varied in theme across those years, and some were much, much more stupid than others. If I back up to my pre-teen years, and think about where my ideas, dreams and inspiration came from, I realize that the sources were really few and far between. There are a handful that stand out:
- Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley High books
- BOP and Seventeen Magazine
- A bulletin board in my room that was covered, every square inch, with pictures of cute boys cut from said BOP and Seventeen magazines (my own analog Pinterest, I guess)
My books and magazines were driven by what my parents would actually let me buy. Once in a while a friend and I may have gotten our hands on a Hit Parader or Cosmo that belonged to an older sister or aunt. Overall, it was a lot of work to find things that were really out of line for where I was in life at the time.
As I grew into high school and I fell in love with all things grunge and sought out the punk and alternative (goth/emo equivalents of today – only way better and not just veiled boy bands) music I truly enjoyed, I had to seek these things out. There was no Hot Topic- the style required some personal investment and couldn’t be bought pre-packaged off the shelf. There was no iTunes – I hunted down the little hole in the wall record shops where I could find the import version of a Nine Inch Nails CD to complete my collection.
Today, the sugar plums that dance through my 11-year-old daughter’s head are decked out in heavy eyeliner, “scene” hair and cut up black band t-shirts. Her Pinterest feed is full of girls between the ages of 16-21 who look like they would fit in perfectly at either a biker bar or some of the more hardcore punk bars in the area. Now, let’s be clear on my issue with this. When I was 11 or 12 years old, did I not dream of being a glamorous teenager with nice boobs and the cutest boyfriend? Of course I did! That’s why I covered my bulletin board with pictures. It’s normal and it’s healthy – it’s how we all learn to explore and consider new ideas and ways of presenting ourselves.
So what’s different, you may ask? What’s so scary? I didn’t have as much at my fingertips. I learned the most about sex from a book that my mom bought for me, that I found in a desk drawer before she actually give it to me. I couldn’t go online and find a corresponding video that would perfectly illustrate what I just read. My parents enforced rules about my appearance – and better yet most of my friends parents did too (which really helped with the peer pressure). Even so, I still did some really stupid things. Comparing that to what our kids have access to today makes me wonder how much more stupid their mistakes may be – and how much sooner we may need to be ready to deal with them.
As I sat down to think about what I wanted to say on this topic, I googled “fashion trends for young girls” (naturally). Here are the image results:
Yes, I would bet that out of that whole image search, this is the one that would show up on my 11-year-old’s Pinterest board. Why? Because she looks like she’s about 12 and she’s dressed like she’s 21. We are no longer presenting young girls with images of older girls dressed in fashionable outfits. When our young girls can have pictures at their fingertips of girls their own age wearing these “fashions” it no longer becomes an aspiration (and I get a little sick to my stomach even thinking that someone would “aspire” to dress like this – but we are talking about pre-teens here) but a reality in their mind. They think they can and should be dressing exactly how they dream. That’s where we need to help them draw some lines.
||SIDEBAR: How would I restyle this girl to be age appropriate in my mind? First – ditch the slutty heals and put ballet flats on her instead. Next, get rid of the make-up. Enjoy being able to walk out of the house with natural skin glowing while you can! It will take more work the older you get. Limit the jewelry to one necklace and bracelet. Wearing too many accessories looks trashy at any age. Lastly, put a freaking tank top on under that top and not a bra! Bras are not an acceptable alternative to outerwear.||
So, that’s a whole lot of complaining and maybe just a little productive solutioning. How do we fix it? Globally – we can’t. We can only take responsibility for the young girls whose lives we touch personally. We can only strive to be a role model and to help them find their way, just like our parents did for us (if we were lucky enough). It’s cool for little girls to dream – frankly, it’s downright necessary. What’s most important is to help them separate dreams from reality at the right times in their lives, and hope that they get it in the long run (because we all know they most certainly will not get it every time in the short-term). Take a look at what they are looking at, pretty frequently if you can, and help them translate those images into a version that fits where they are right now.
I’ll leave you with this little ray of light I found on my Google travels this morning.
Tolly is a 14 year old fashion blogger, originally from the UK, who has been blogging since she was 11. Her goal it to become a fashion designer and she is probably the most authentic 14 year old girl I’ve ever seen. This what our girls need to be able to find in the tangle of the interwebs. How luck if this is what they all aspired to be.