So, in the year of blogging about children’s issues (allegedly…it’s been a while!), I’ve been noticing the issues that get a lot of spotlight and the ones that don’t. Usually my reaction is “Why are people spending so much time on X when Y is so much more important to solve?” Or I’ve th0ught “Why are people complaining so overkill about X when they should be grateful they don’t have to deal with Y?”
And by hype I mean things like controversial cover images, blogosphere buzz, countless re-posts and responses, coverage by other outlets of the initial story, and comment board tsunamis.
This all in turn begs the next question: what has created the skewed direction of media hype when it comes to children’s’ issues?
We all kind of know the reason for this. Most big media is driven by the search for profit. For better or worse. And so most media locatess where the most money is and they target the hell out of that audience. And the result of that is we get a lot of stories with giant hype which are meant to connect with that coveted group.
Who is that demographic group? Mainly middle class to affluent people, educated, often white, often suburban or living in nice parts of a city, in the range of 25-49 years old…. and mostly not facing serious problems with their kids. They are people like me, actually … except I don’t have kids.
So the issues that get the hype are the ones who this group likes. What do they like?
They like stories they can relate to, stories about people like them and problems they face. Which is normal. But self-reflection can unfortunately become self-absorption. And it also leads to over-saturation of stories about the same group all the time, and the expense of other things. An article recently decried a stressed wealthy working momwriter being written off as a cliche. Well, when article after article is about the same demographic group, people in that group do become cliches!
This demographic group also likes stories which are infotaining. Again, most of us are like this (lol) We don’t like tough issues. Tough issues require solutions often involve personal agency and tough up-hill slogs from the public. They also require digesting data, reading depressing stories and pondering complex gray areas.
Instead, what this key demographic likes is sensationalized pieces on non-lethal, polarizing topics which allow them to do things like post comments voicing opinions that give them a “moral-high-ground high” and then move on.
And so this is why the stories that dominate the media in the last year have been about things like:
- Celebrity moms who breastfeed their pre-schoolers or “attachment parent”
- Chinese Tiger Moms who push their kids too hard in piano and schoolwork and French moms whose kids are super polite
- How Mr. Rogers encouragement and kids’ getting too many awards for participation is making a whole generation feel “entitled.”
- How a huge, damaging problem facing girls is that corporate America wants them to like princesses and pink.
Now, I’m not saying there aren’t things in all of these above points that deserve some mention. Maybe extended breastfeeding is good or bad and it’s worth figuring out. Certainly I thought some of the Tiger Mom’s methods would damage her kids’ psyches. I agree a lot of kids are going into the world taught by their parents to push to the front of the line as if they’re more important than the next kid. And I am not for corporations dictating to girls who and what they can be.
What I see in these issues is an immense, almost breathtaking, amount of time and energy and money and words and pictures devoted by professionals, amateurs, and people-on-the-street to issues which:
…in some cases involve very small numbers of kids and/or
….a relatively privileged group (again, target audience) and…
….in most cases boil down to subjective parenting choices, and…
…are not life and death or even close and…
…. do not in any way shape or form acknowledge that kids – right here in America, on a daily basis – are going without the very basics that sustain life…
Or, put another way, one of my friends – a mom of three – said in response to some post or other about parents who are too much into their kids’ school lives– and I paraphrase – “Yeah, well, what about the parents who just don’t care?”
And that’s it in a nutshell. We are becoming obsessed with these articles about attached moms and helicopter parents– in part, again, because we enjoy complaining about them and their spoiled kids and it requires nothing more of us – ….while on the other hand, we fail to really talk about these other just plain horrific problems.
This is real:
- More than 400,000 American kids are in foster care (2009)
- “The number of children and teens in America killed by guns in 2006 would fill more than 127 public school classrooms of 25 students each. “
And yes, there are news items about these things from time to time. But do they get the hype and the buzz and the response and the frequency of coverage? Or are we too busy talking about Tiger Mom throwing away her kids toys or how old Blossom’s kids will be before they get out of her bed?
People who write about kids today are sending the message that the major problems our children face are basically having too much stuff and too much care from adults. I argue the truth is exactly the opposite – SEE ABOVE STATISTICS — and that’s what we should be talking about.
I also disagree with the implied corollary: these articles imply that the major problem we should be talking about when it comes to what parents face is their being too busy – by choice – because they work – by choice – and put their kids in every activity known to man – by choice – and feel pressured to be like the other parents – by choice.
Instead I would argue the major problem we need to be discussion today is that parents lack choices. They don’t have a choice but for both parents to work. They don’t have a choice but to rely on help from others if they don’t have jobs. They lack options for their kids to do enriching things or even be properly educated – either because of finances or where they live or both. Maybe some made an initial bad choice to have a kid they couldn’t afford. But now what? And on and on. These are the real issues.
Needles to say, I feel for the pressures ALL parents are under. But not all pressure is equal, or rather, the pressure we are awarding top position on the national discussion pyramid is misplaced.
And I am not saying anything new. Any article about “The Mommy Wars” for instance, will always point out that “of course, these things are problems only for women with enough income to make these choices…”
Yet, somehow, these articles still dominate the landscape.
I guess all I’m trying to say is this:
People who have education, access, savvy, the ability to write and research (some for a living), the time to leave comments, and other such advantages should focus more on the big problems kids face.
Journalism about kids and families should serve a higher purpose than helping affluent people sort through their lifestyle choices or nitpick someone else’s. It maybe fun to contemplate “organic food or not organic food” “youth soccer that keeps score or youth soccer that doesn’t'”, “Disney princesses yay or nay?” — and so forth, we need to dial down the infatuation with these topics.
We’ve got better things to do with our power and more important things to do for our kids.