Following Disney Alumni Miley Cyrus’ boisterous performance and this years Video Music Awards, Natural Child World wanted to take a look at how hugely effected children are by popular culture. NCW’s editors spoke with Dr. Jim Taylor, a psychologist who has written several books and spoken numerous times on the subject, about how parents can protect their children from the harsh images of media and society.
NCW: I was hoping you could tell me a little but about how you got involved in this field with regards to societal influences. Was there an epiphany or particular patient that spurred you in this direction?
JT: In my work with children and families, I came to see that the role of popular culture on children was profound and this influence has only grown more powerful with the rise of the Internet.
NCW: What do you find in your practice is the largest influence on children in America as images of beauty go?
JT: All aspects of media send unhealthy messages about physical appearance to children, most notably, fashion and celebrity magazines and web sites (in which virtually every page has a slim, young, and beautiful woman), pop music (in which you rarely see a female performer who is not young, slim, and beautiful), television, including youth-oriented shows (e.g., Disney, Nickelodeon) and my least favorite, reality TV.
NCW: Do you find that any one indicator of this issue is predominant over another (ie anorexia, depression, suicide)?
JT: There is no single way in which these unhealthy messages impact young people. They will express their difficulties depending on their genetics and upbringing. Eating disorders, low-self-esteem, perfectionism, anxiety, depression, and suicide are probably the most common forms of psychological problems that can arise.
NCW: Do you think there is a correlation between the huge jump in eating disorders and youth suicide in comparison to the similar boom of plastic surgery?
JT: I can’t speak to the relationship between cosmetic surgery and youth suicide, but eating disorders and cosmetic surgery are related because they both reflect an extreme dissatisfaction with their body.
NCW: What do you think the future looks like for the youths of tomorrow if society continues in the direction it is going today?
JT: It is difficult to be optimistic given that we can’t turn back the clock on the new technology which has brought so many more unhealthy messages and images into children’s lives. We are also not ever going to stop the juggernaut of the “beauty-industrial complex” where making money is more important than the welfare of our children. Children’s only hope are their parents and the social structures that parents construct around their children to help protect them from the corrosive influence of popular culture and technology.
NCW: How can parents raise an aware, happy, successful child in our modern times?
JT: The most important thing parents must recognize is that they have a huge influence on their children, even as their kids become teenagers. With this power, parents need to ensure that they haven’t been seduced by the same messages as their children are being bombarded with. If the two most powerful forces in children’s lives—popular culture and parents—are sending them the same unhealthy messages, their children are doomed. Parents should be very aware of the messages they send their children about physical appearance, overtly and subtly, and make sure that they are the opposite of what popular culture is telling them.
Top 10 Things You Can Do to Protect and Prepare Your Children for Popular Culture’s Unhealthy Messages about Beauty
1. Know what messages your kids are getting by seeing what TV shows and movies they are watching, what music they are listening to, what web sites they are viewing, what video games they are playing, and who their friends are.
2. Set limits on media that is sending your children bad messages.
3. Consciously send messages that downplay physical appearance and emphasize more important things such as values, relationships, physical health, education, arts, faith, etc.
4. Help your children find alternative activities than those offered by popular culture (e.g., dance classes instead of shopping).
5. Create a community (e.g., neighborhood, school, friends, family, houses of worship) that supports a healthy perspective and that will help you counter the unhealthy messages from popular culture.
6. Teach your children to be healthy skeptics by showing them the bad messages they are getting (e.g., beauty matters most) and why popular culture is sending those messages (e.g., to make more money).
7. Have conversations with your children in which you share your perspective on the importance of beauty (it’s not!).
8. Give your children the opportunity to share their feelings the unhealthy messages, how they affect them, and what they can do about them.
9. Keep praise about appearance to a minimum and emphasize more substantial qualities of your children such as hard work, kindness, honesty.
10. Be a good role model. If you don’t care about physical appearance, the chances are that your children will get that message.