Q: My children know it is not right to watch, play, or listen to things that are not for their ages, and they understand why, as we have explained to them. But their friends tend to walk away from them because of this. For instance, my 12-year-old daughter was asked by her friends to dance to a Lady Gaga song for a show at school. I watched the music video so I could talk to my daughter about it; of course, I said that it was inappropriate for her to dance on it. Her friends told her she was chicken; I told her not to care, and that she would be the one to go really far in life. I would like to know your thoughts on this, as my children’s self-esteem tends to suffer because of the power of the media on children. How do we improve their circle of friends?
–Peer Pressured, in London, UK
A: Dear Peer Pressured,
First of all, I also want to commend you for actually listening to the Lady Gaga song that your daughter’s friends asked her to dance to. Many parents don’t engage with their kids’ media because they feel like they can’t relate to it in any way, but by listening to the song yourself, you invite discussion with your daughter. This gives you a chance to learn what she thinks about it, to share what you think about it, and to keep the conversation open between you.
The main issue here, though, relates the difference between how your daughter uses media and how her friends use media. Part of the challenge is that entertainment media create a common experience that young people can share, whether they’re discussing what happened on The Simpsons or what happened in a basketball game. If a young person doesn’t share in this common experience, she is likely to feel left out. This is especially challenging during the pre-teen years, when social validation begins to come from peers instead of from family.
It sounds like your daughter feels very alone, in part because she’s having trouble finding like-minded peers at school. But there are many young people who are in the same boat as she is—it’s just a matter of finding them. In the Media Age, a great way to do that is through online social networking.
Youth use social networking sites to build communities around everything from shared hobbies to shared chronic illnesses, especially when such communities don’t exist in their immediate environments. For your daughter, finding youth who share other interests of hers might help address this challenge—whether the relationships occur offline or online. For example, one parent I met recently told me that her 12-year-old daughter loves New Moon, an ad-free, adult-moderated site where she has open, honest discussions with other girls. Encourage your daughter to see what’s out there, and take a look for yourself. Although challenges with school friends will still arise, other forums for connection can help her find the social approval she’s looking for without feeling like she has to change herself.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,