The Tween Diaries
Have you heard the latest gossip about so-and-so? Oh my god, I can’t believe she did that. And did you see what she was wearing?Like never before, we are bombarded with images of Hollywood party girls with photographs and gossip stories in the latest tabloid magazines and on television exposing their wild ways and sometimes, depending on what they’re wearing, even more. Problem is, girls have a tough enough time today figuring out how to become young women without the allure of the Britney-Paris glam train wrecks.
Celebrities have become familiar icons we see day in and day out. Reading and talking about the latest antics of Britney Spears or Paris Hilton is how we, as a society, define ourselves.Eleven-year-old Molly Redmond, a sixth-grader at Alder Creek Middle School, says she thinks Britney Spears doesnt appreciate her real self, since shes always changing her look.But separating fact from fiction can prove troublesome for some girls as they find themselves showered with sensationalized stories by an insatiable media, says Krishna Desai, a violence prevention educator with Tahoe Womens Services. Similar to Roman times when crowds cheered for a blood-bath during a gladiator fight, America loves a great coming-of-age story, but many people also like it when someone in the spotlight falls, Desai says. But what kind of story are we telling young girls with the medias portrayal of and obsession with Hollywoods party girls?
Media TV, tabloid mags, newspapers and particularly the Internet are today more readily accessible to youngsters of all ages, Desai observes. For junior high kids its opening Pandoras box. Everythings at their little grubby fingertips, she says. Desai adds that the Internet exposes such an impressionable young person to social factors that are not mitigated by adults. Media literacy is not where it should be, and some youngsters have a hard time separating myth from reality, Desai cautions. And todays youths are often immersed in the media. Nowadays, many couples both work full time, making it easy for their children to have unsupervised access to the Internet and television, says Jan Susman, a counselor at Truckee Elementary School. One of the myths media coverage of celebrities portrays is the easy life of affluence young stars flaunting their disposable incomes with cars, million-dollar homes and expensive clothing. Most youths living in Truckee and the North Shore know theyre not going to have those material things and that says something about our society, Desai says. The majority of children who are aware that society includes both haves and have-nots are able to differentiate between whats real and whats not.But the medias portrayal of people in the spotlight, who seemingly achieved overnight success, can lead some youngsters to feel less than positive about themselves, Susman says. The pressure can be brutal for youths on the cusp of their teenage years, better known as tweens.Susman, the school counselor, says pop culture what tweens wear, the music they listen to, and how they talk to each other affects who they will become as adults.And stars are now shown behaving badly more often in the media, Susman says. When I was growing up it was more hush-hush, and things like rehab werent talked about openly, she says.Tahoe Womens Centers Desai says its important for kids to learn that sadness is an everyday fact. But when explaining to a girl why Britneys in rehab, its important to keep the explanation age-appropriate, she says. The lesson is not lost on many teens. (Britney Spears) was all good girl and now shes turned into something else, says Angie Ortega, 17, a Sierra High student who volunteers at the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe.And if a tween develops a celebrity crush, theyre likely drawn to something positive in that person like singing or dancing and parents should nurture those qualities in their children, Desai says. Celebrities are a brand name; but theyre also a person, Desai says.Take Paris Hilton for example: Maybe she comes up with crazy things to boost her career, but dont say to a girl who admires her, Paris Hilton is a worthless human being, Desai explains. Instead, she says, find something good to emphasize about that person.
Theres a real lack of strong role models for children today, Desai says. Girls are trying to figure out how to become young women. Susman says girls start to become more aware of genders by the fourth or fifth grade. All of a sudden you start seeing them distance themselves, talking in cliques amongst themselves, and girls not putting their hand up in class, Susman says.At the same age, many boys also assume gender roles patterned on the example set by our society, Susman says.Issues over body image also begin to surface at the tween age, Desai says. Tweens are changing emotionally, physically and mentally, she points out. Anything that helps youth blend in at that tipping point of adolescence they grab it. Many youths have a herd-mentality at that age, a tendency to go with whats popular, she says. Yet they must measure themselves against idealized images in the media.Young girls are constantly presented with photographs in magazines of perfectly toned, tanned, made-up, and airbrushed women that portray a difficult-to-attain if not impossible standard of beauty. It doesnt stay in Hollywood, Desai says; but until girls have something to contrast that with, it gets harder and harder.Susman says she has counseled fourth and fifth-grade girls dealing with depression and concerns with body image.Girls need to know theyre loved, and remember how special they are and how special it is to be a girl, Susman says.
So what does it take to be a good role model in the real world?Redmond and her two friends, Sammi Maciel, 11, and Katrin Larusson,12, talk over each other as they wait for soccer practice to begin, chattering about how theyve been friends since preschool. The Alder Creek sixth-graders say they look up to their older sisters and relatives, because they dont make you feel bad about yourself. And the girls say they know their close relatives will always be there for them. Being a role model means more than just having a pretty face, the girls agree. Maciel says she admires her cousin because she gets good grades in college, has a sense of humor and treats other people well.Role models dont have to be perfect people. As long as a mentor is honest, he or she doesnt have to have celebrity status to be a solid role model. Just show up, Desai advises.Tahoe Womens Services tries to give girls the tools they need to go out into the world and apply what theyve learned in all aspects of their lives, Desai says. Maturing is learning how to see all the things in your world for what they are, and many tweens will eventually grow out of their childhood celebrity crushes, Desai says. The presence of responsible role models can help.We have danced around the role of being a parent recently, Susman the counselor says, giving youths more power. Children watch what parents do more than what they say. Parents need to be the captain of the ship, Susman says. Because I said so, is ultimately, I think, what kids want [to hear].For the most part, its not movie stars or athletes that youths admire, says Cindy Maciel, Sierra Teen Education and Parenting Program manager, and the mother of Sammi Maciel. Parents are supposed to be the role models.Ask an adult, Who really helped you out? Desai says. No ones like: Keith Richards.Tweens probably need us more now than when they were babies because of all the changes happening in their lives and the choices they will make, Cindy Maciel says. Parents need to listen to what their children have to say, talk to them, and be there as a check-in.She sighs and rolls her eyes as she thinks about what the teenage rebellion years are going to be like in her household.As a mom, I dont know if Im doing it right, Cindy Maciel concedes.
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