Six Going on Sixteen
Fighting "age compression" and the commercialization of childhood
by Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin
In this chapter, McLaughlin explains the experiences that she had in her kindergarten and first grade looping class. She noticed five and six year olds talking about MySpace, vying for the attention of the "cool kids," and dancing like the people in music videos during games like Freeze dance. In addition, "My 5-, 6-, and 7- year-olds played out and talked about "being in the club" and "drinking Heineken" (Marshall and Sensoy p 36). McLaughlin continued to explain how these young children already labeled one another as being "in" or "out" due to clothing and knowledge of pop culture. If children wore the name brand clothes advertised on TV and knew the songs on the radio, then they were "cool", but for those who had or knew neither were not. For example, McLaughlin often had a male kindergarten student have meltdowns in class because other boys made fun of his sneakers. She also described a situation that occurred on the school bus when her class was going on a field trip to the farm. At first all of the students on the bus were excited and talking about the farm but then the bus driver put the radio on and within minutes "the mood on the bus changed dramatically" (Marshall and Sensoy p 38). Children started looking around on the bus to see who else knew the song that was playing and those were the children they wanted to associate with. As a result of her experiences, McLaughlin argues that mainstream media has a negative effect on our young students and is taking away their opportunity to fully enjoy their childhood.
McLaughlin's observation influenced her to take action against the mainstream media her students were exposed to. She established classroom rules, re-structured partners so students has to work with others who they normally did not interact with, held lunch meetings with the girls in her class and school counselor, connected with mothers and grandmothers, and brought back former students so they could share their positive experiences. To further develop her knowledge and strategies for her class, McLaughlin decided to take a two day summer course called Media Madness: The Impact of Sex, Violence, and Commercial Culture on Children and Society. The class taught her that "the corporate world deliberately targets vulnerable children" (Marshall and Sensoy p39). As a result, child development experts collaborate with advertisers in order to promote merchandise for the correct developmental stage ( Marshall and Sensoy p39). The term "age compression" was also introduced and explains how children at younger ages are acting and dressing like older children because the media is influencing their decisions. "There is a blurring of boundaries between children and adults, as demonstrated by the similarities in clothing marketed to both groups by the fashion industry" (Marshall and Sensoy p39). When school began again in the fall, Laughlin found ways to let her students be children through creative play. She taught students how to interpret facial expressions and words of others, was more explicit with lessons, added dolls to the dress up area, acted out scenarios for her students, and also taught them how to create entertainment. Her students learned to play and pretend, which many were not used to. One student said, "It was hard to get the pretending into me. Once I started it felt good" (Marshall and Sensoy p42). The chapter argued that media linked toys/TV cause children to imitate what they see rather than create, which leads to unsatisfying play (Marshall and Sensoy p42).
Aside from classroom initiatives, McLaughlin worked with her colleagues at school to challenge the issue. The school organized a game night which let families "unplug" from the media they were used to and it was enjoyed by many. They also prepared for and celebrated National Turnoff Week to promote the idea of not watching TV. The event allowed teachers and students to brainstorm alternatives to watching TV, have discussions on why the event was occurring, and talk about how media impacts peoples' lives. Families enjoyed the event and "some parents noticed their children slept better and were thinking about keeping the screen entertaimment off during the weekdays" (Marshall and Sensoy p44). Through her efforts, McLaughlin reminded her students how to be kids and appreciate the simple pleasures of life.
When skimming through the list of chapters in Rethinking Popular Culture and Media, I was interested by many of the options but decided to focus on this chapter because of my future position at an elementary school. I was curious to read about the challenges that I may face working with younger children as a result of the media around them. At first I thought much of the chapter was putting a negative connotation on media, however after I realized that it was the media that is used for entertainment. I thought McLaughlin discussed relevant points regarding children not knowing how to be children. I recall running around outside and playing house as a kid, as opposed to some children I see today watching TV, playing video games, or on the i Pad. Children today are very reliant on technology and if it fails, they do not know what to do. As an educator, I think it is partly my responsibility to teach my students how to use technology for learning purposes but also encourage them to be creative and think critically without it. Classrooms today need to find a balance between technology and the "pre-technology" world. Children need to see, explore, touch, and create besides just doing it all on a computer. Pop culture isn't the only cause of the troubles that our youth face, however as educators and parents we need to "protect them from the corporate world that forces them to grow up too soon" (Marshall and Sensoy p45).
6 Going on 21.....Growing up wayyyy to soon. Check it Out!