Fighting Admen For Teens' Minds

COMMENTARY Marriage and Family

Fighting Admen For Teens' Minds

May 19, 2009 2 min read

Visiting Fellow

Today's adolescents spend an estimated $200 billion a year of their own money. They are the most affluent generation of young people in the history of the world, which also makes them the most marketed to.

So fierce is the competition for their cash that modern marketing techniques have become, in many cases, insidiously evil. Today, selling to teens isn't about finding out what they want - it's about figuring out how to manipulate their minds.

Every parent of a pre-teen or teenage child knows that these years are marked by raging hormones, a developing interest and confusion about sexuality, a roller coaster of emotions, and a wild vacillation between self-doubt and the desire for autonomy. Modern marketers cleverly feed the flames of uncertainty by saturating our teens with highly sexualized images, rude attitudes and violence in order to get their adrenaline pumping and keep them coming back for more.

Take MTV for instance - this master of seduction and control doesn't just "entertain" our children, it brainwashes girls into believing the way to get ahead in the world is not by their grace, or brains or beauty, but by their sexual power. And teen boys? They are encouraged to wallow in the crude and doltish adolescent state that most parents desperately want them to grow out of.

Marketers who create this great teenage wasteland of highly sexualized programming and crudeness are proud of their addictive, adrenaline-pumping material and the way they have captured the imaginations and are shaping the worldview of our youngsters. And it works. Our nation's children seem nearly addicted to edgy media. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, they are consuming some six hours of media every day, the vast majority of which preaches a lifestyle that is anything but healthy.

Throughout programming designed for your children, young women have been reduced to arrogant sex objects, and young men to helpless idiots. We must do better by our daughters and sons. There's nothing a teenager hates more than being manipulated, yet they are so skillfully twisted by today's media world that they don't even know it.

So, encourage them to dissect advertisements and look critically at programming content and how it shapes their own attitudes. Show them how they are being preyed upon. I highly recommend viewing with them a PBS video titled, "The Merchants of Cool."

Produced several years ago, it is still the definitive study on how teens are being used by an industry peddling a worldview that keeps them hyped up and caught up in the worst inclinations of the teen years. Viewing the program together will help foster a closer relationship and joint understanding of what to do next.

We must deliberately work to bring out the best of the transitional teen years - a time that is supposed to be a bridge from childhood into responsible adulthood. Rally around your children during these vulnerable years and find other adults who will help you shape your girls into women of intelligence and virtue and your sons into gentlemen of strong character.

Parents must cut through the garbage and make adolescence productive, fun and healthy. But it doesn't happen by accident or by absentee parenting. It takes your time and daily commitment to them as people, determined to pass on your values instead of the values of those who only see your children as cash cows.

Rebecca Hagelin is senior communications fellow for the Heritage Foundation and the author of "30 Ways in 30 Days to Save Your Family" and runs the Web site

First appeared in the Washington Times