Saturday, January 05, 2008

Lock Up Your Daughters!

It shocked me. It disgusted me. I wanted to hurt someone.

The headline screamed out from the cover of Toronto Life magazine: Lock Up Your Daughters. Surely the magazine used a metaphor to make itspoint. But no, the headline on the article itself read "Bring Me YourDaughters." The feudal Dark Ages had returned.

As Toronto Life is not inclined toward promoting the businesses of pimps--at least of the kind that markets prostitutes--it had to refer tothe next worst fate for young girls: the quest for top models.

"Top" meaning what? Those who will fetch top dollars at fashion shows that use raised runways, exotic lightning and sometimes even dry ice "smoke." Fetch top dollars for themselves? Hardly. Fetch the big bucks for their managers. The runway pimps.

Before the article even began, enlarged font letters in bold print told of "the champagne-soaked world of giddy teens [and] back-stabbing agents." The titles began to mean something. It wasn't good.

This world was what the magazine warned parents of teenage girls to avoid. In short, the life of Paris Hilton, only without the enormous fame, publicity and public relations managers.

How, pray tell, did the magazine intend for parents to avoid their daughters wanting to adopt this life? The article didn't say. It went onto describe the professional activities of "├╝ber-agent" Elmer Olsen whose clients have become A-list models around the world. The man creates Paris Hiltons of the runway.

Why would any young woman want to become a "top model"?

When they were young children (under the age of 11), their parents wanted to protect them from the ugly world of modelling, of drugs and alcohol, of having no home life or roots, of associating with people who wanted to pimp them as modelling whores. The parents kept information about this career choice from the kids. That and a whole lot more.

While that practice became a habit ("They're still too young!"), the children grew into adolescence. Throughout the history of our species, our young were trained to cope with the rigours of the adult world when they were little. By the time they reached adolescence, they were considered to be adults, with almost all adult responsibilities, but still retaining the tie to parents who could guide them when they needed support or answers to tough questions. The parent-child psychological umbilical stretched, but it wasn't cut completely.

Today's parents want their children to be independent, so they aren't always momma's boys or girls, but they don't want to enlighten the kids about what the real world they will soon face is like. Consequently they don't have occasions to discuss either reasons for avoiding risky lifestyles and habits or the coping skills needed to get out of trouble if they should find themselves in over their heads.

All the kids see of Paris Hilton is glamour, popularity, expensive clothing, "slightly" bad behaviour that seems like fun, and lots of "friends." To an adolescent, especially one who is socially inept because his or her parents have kept them in the dark about the realities of life around them, having friends is just about the most important thing in their lives.

They don't know that the easiest kind of friends to find are those who will put their lives most at risk. They don't know the dark side of fame and glamour, the enormous self destruction of drugs, the alienating effects of alcohol abuse, the devastation of gambling addiction. All they know is what they see. And it looks like fun from their point ofview.

Lock up your teenage daughters? No, not necessary. Just stop treating your young children like dolls that will never grow up and teach them the skills and the knowledge they need to know about life. Childhood is when kids learn about adulthood without having to act it out.

It's the job of parents to teach, not to protect their children against the real world. Those who want to protect their kids, who want to maintain their innocence as long as possible, ultimately neglect their primary role in life.

Innocent children grow into ignorant adults. Look around you. Don't do it.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, an easy-to-read book for parents and grandparents, along withguides for parents and teachers, about what young children need to knowand when to teach it.
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