Monday, January 23, 2012

Protecting Girlhood: The Message or the Messenger?

The article, "The House of Dreams," written by Jane Addams describes her concerns for children in regard to how the theater threatens their morality.

Addams argues that children in the labor force are without access to newspapers and moral guidance and as a result, fall prey to the fantasy of the theater. Addams argues that the children viewing these performances and dramas will mimic the often risky and amoral behavior expressed in the dramas.

"Is it not astounding that a city allows thousands of its youth to fill their impressionable minds with these absurdities which certainly will become the foundation for their working moral codes and the data from which they will judge the properties of life?"

Addams conservative views on morals and media reminded me of a radio broadcast I heard last week titled "On Protecting Girlhood" featuring Caitlin Flanagan, author of Girl Land.

Flanagan discusses the dangers children (girls) face with unlimited access to information.

Her concerns are largely centered around culture as expressed through the media of today, the internet and cell phones, specifically the 24/7 access to popular culture's images of girls and women, as well as pornography. This unlimited and easily accessed information often comes without the benefit of real life experience, knowledge, and supervision or accompanied by explanation.

Flanagan's concerns echo Addams' in that both women worry that access to unsupervised information or information without explanation will lead young people astray and at risk of making bad decisions.

Have the internet and cell phones had an effect on adolescence? Is the problem culture or media?

How do you envision the future of adolescence for young people with increasingly accessible media?


  1. Christine-

    Thanks for posting the On Point Caitlin Flanagan interview – I found it interesting and thought-provoking.

    I thought that the dichotomy posited in the interview reflects the views presented in both “The House of Dreams” by Addams as well as “From Middletown” by Lynd and Lynd. Parents raising girls (and later in the selections they talk about boys) seem to be given two choices – (1) Protecting their daughters or (2) Allowing their daughters to have independence. If parents protect their daughters from media, by perhaps designated their rooms as electronic free spaces, then some may argue that girls are still allowed to have an adolescence where they can romanticize about relationships and keep their hopes of finding a “prince.” However, other parents may wish to encourage their daughter’s independence – and allow them free access to the information afforded by the electronic media. I did appreciate that the callers on the radio interview did point out that parents relying on either extreme method would probably not find success – that parents needed to be realistic about their children’s access to all kinds of information (helpful and harmful) on the internet, at schools, etc. I appreciated the second caller who exemplified the importance of dialogue between parent and daughter about the images on the internet, or the conversations with peers at school, etc.

    In response to your question about whether or not the internet and cell phones have had an effect on adolescence – my answer is yes. When I look at the 15-year-olds in my classroom, I see a group who is definitely influenced by media and technology. The On Point interview showed a few examples of how adolescents are affected by images on websites, phone messages, etc. to act in a certain way or have certain expectations about relationships. When I look into my high school, I see teens influenced to talk in a certain way because of what they’ve seen on TV or on a Youtube post; I see students’ moods changes because of text message they’ve received a few seconds ago. Teens are now constantly pressured to do certain things or feel a certain way because of their continuous connection to media. In regards to the rest of this question – I’m not sure if culture is to blame or media – perhaps it’s a combination.

    The other question you asked us to think about how we envisioned of adolescents who have an increasing accessibility to media. I think that this question rests with the parents of the future. However, when looking to some of the readings for today, we might not see a hopeful response. Last semester, my students read Our Town by Thronton Wilder. In Act II, Emily marries George. Before the wedding, Emily’s mother is in tears and tells the audience that she hopes Emily’s married girlfriends have told her a thing or two because she “couldn’t bear” to talk to her daughter herself. A mother from one of our class readings said about movies, “I send my daughter because a girl has to learn the ways of the world somehow and the movies are a good safe way,” (p. 67). In both examples we see mothers pushing off difficult mother-daughter discussions, hoping that someone else or perhaps a film will work as a substitute. Today we also see parents using TV, video games, and the internet as babysitters.

    However, to avoid being a complete pessimist, there are parents like the caller on On Point who do talk to their children about the media they ingest… so, perhaps if more people in our communities – parents, teachers, mentors – do take the time to just talk about the ideas presented in media with our youth, then maybe the weight of information available through our computers, TVs, and phones can work to educate adolescents to form healthy relationships.

  2. Christine,

    Thank you for posting this topic. I feel it’s a combination of both our culture and the media that effect our youth. First, the easy access to the Internet may lead young girls to images or YouTube videos that suggest they should act a certain, often, negative way. The media and obsession with celebrities seems to be blending and causing a major negative effect on young girls. For instance, MTV has shows like “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant.” After these shows aired and gained popularity, many young girls were confused on if being pregnant was a cool or hip thing. The message media is sending our youth is that if you get pregnant at a young age, out of wed lock, you have a chance to be on TV and be the star of a reality show. Reality TV, which is never reality at all, is making people who would not normally be a role model, the stars that kids today watch on TV and see on the covers of magazines.

    I hope that our media will change, but if it keeps on the path it’s going, I feel four young people’s future with their increasingly easy access to many forms of media.


  3. Christine,

    I really enjoyed ready your post- and I think it is an extremely important topic to discuss. With the increased accessibility to the Internet, today's youth can find content that is not always age-appropriate, or monitored by their families. As I have spent time volunteering in the schools I have seen/heard of students as young as 2nd grade with smart phones... and let's be honest, most youth can use a smartphone better than I can! With this level of access to content- student's can find the answer to any question, as well as watch videos or seek out images that may not be age appropriate.

    Too often, media creates a stereotype of what an ideal body shape should be. Women tend to fall to the scrutiny more so than men, but I imagine adolescents and teen females are not only targeted, but effected. After reading this post- I immediately thought of a photo I has seen on Pinterest illustrating the body shape ideals of women, men, and the reality:

    I think this attitude can be combated if we, as a society, make a collective effort to talk to our youth about subjects other than vanity- see the below article for a great example:

    Thanks again for posting- nice work!