3 Ways to Help Your Daughter Understand & Withstand Media Influences
Messages embedded in song lyrics, video imagery, and advertising influence the ways girls think about themselves and their relationships with others. You can help your daughters–and other young girls–become aware of media messages that violate values and degrade girls, using these engaging conversations and activities:
Invite your daughter to share with you a favorite song or two. This activity works great on a long car trip or even at home when you can enjoy uninterrupted listening and talking time. After a song has played, ask your daughter questions like:
• How did you feel when you listened to this song?
• What is this song about?
• Were there any words that you didn’t understand?
• Have you ever watched the music video for this song?
• Did the video storyline match the words?
• How did the video make you feel when you watched it?
• How were the actors/dancers in the video dressed?
You will be walking the fine line between spending quality time together and “judging” her taste in music, so proceed with an abundance of caution, emphasizing your genuine interest in your child’s thoughts and opinions. Most importantly, avoid lecturing at all costs. There is almost limitless potential for talking about pop music and videos of the day, from lead singers to their fashions, to the messages they are trying to convey, and so on. Go where your daughter leads you.
The takeaway point of this activity should not be to condemn music and videos or even to dampen your daughter’s enthusiasm for them. Rather, asking your child to evaluate music lyrics and video imagery can help her to become a more informed consumer and better critical thinker when it comes to awareness of the media influences that surround her on a daily basis.
When girls learn to ask themselves questions about what they are hearing, seeing, dancing to day after day, and singing out loud, they develop a protective measure of insight and control over ubiquitous media messages—rather than the other way around.
Print Advertisements and Celebrity Photos
The next time you and your daughter are browsing magazines or watching entertainment news on TV or online, make it a point to strike up a conversation about how popular advertisements and celebrity photos often bend the truth and trick us into seeing things that do not really exist. It can be helpful to ask your daughter if she is familiar with the term “airbrushing.” Explain the concept with the emphasis that some media images use airbrushing to trick girls into believing that “perfection” exists. Explain that when girls take in these messages without questioning them, they can begin to feel badly about themselves, worrying that they don’t measure up to impossible standards.
Several examples of airbrushing and before/after comparisons of celebrity photos are available on the internet. Among the best examples is a video called “Dove Evolution,” available on YouTube or by typing “Dove Campaign for Real Beauty” into an online search engine. This brief clip shows the transformation of an everyday-looking woman into a billboard-ready supermodel. It is a great discussion tool for showing young girls how it takes an army of professionals to transform one model and that even with the large team of hair and make-up artists, the model still needs digital alteration before her image is projected to the world.
Because the images flash by quickly, it is often helpful to show the video more than once. After showing your daughter this video, make the point that seeing should never be believing when it comes to the images in the media. This is often an eye-opening video for girls who, even at young ages, are already major consumers of media messages. The takeaway point of this activity is to encourage girls to feel good about exactly who they are and not to compare themselves to media images that are neither real nor attainable (without a team of professionals and digital alteration.) As with the previous activity about music lyrics, this conversation encourages girls to think critically about media images and to become informed consumers rather than passive recipients of the media.
Toys and Games
Unfortunately, airbrushed imagery in entertainment and advertising is not limited to adult audiences. Kids are the target market for unrealistic products of all kinds, everyday. Set aside some time with your daughter to jointly browse through store catalogs or walk through store aisles and take note of the types of toys, games, and activities available for kids your child’s age. Talk about which items represent “real” girls engaged in realistic activities vs. which show girls in unrealistic outfits, wearing adult make-up, or doing things you couldn’t imagine a girl your child’s age doing. If your daughter is a show-me-the-facts type, tally the number of items that represent “real” girls in one column, and compare it to a second column in which she tracks those that represent unrealistic products for kids her age. How to the numbers compare? What does this tell her?
On September 22, New Moon Girls Magazine and www.newmoon.com will officially launch their Girl-Caught campaign. When “Girl Catchers” spot disrespectful ads and products, they can tag them with red Girl-Caught stickers (available at www.newmoon.com/girl-caught) to fight back against companies that disrespect girls and women. Likewise, girls can use green Girl-Caught stickers to celebrate products and organizations that respect girls and women. The Girl Caught campaign is a fun, interactive way to encourage girls of all ages to become engaged, critical thinkers about the products advertised for girls and to help them resist the pressures of unrealistic imagery.
The ideas included in this article are excerpted from my upcoming book, Friendship & Other Weapons: Group Activities to Help Young Girls Cope with Bullying, scheduled for publication in October 2011. For more information about Friendship & Other Weapons or to find out more about the Mother-Daughter seminars based on the book, please visit the Workshops & Speaking page on this site.