How Can I Get My Child to Get More Active?

family_bikeBy Dr. Robyn Silverman

Dear Dr. Robyn,

We have 3 children (ages 11, 7, and 4)– and only 1 of them is really into sports.  I worry that the others are going to become very unhealthy because the activities they choose to do typically don’t require them to do much physical activity.  I worry about their weight, their health…everything. I don’t want to harp on them because I don’t want to make them hate getting active or make them think that I think they’re fat or they’re going to get fat (1 of them is a girl). Please give me some suggestions on how I can help them to get more active!   —Lisa M., Durham, NC

Dear Lisa,

Thank you for your question–

There’s so much talk about body issues these days—on the one hand, we’re dealing with what is being labeled “an obesity epidemic”  and on the other hand, we’re dealing with more and more children with body image issues (both boys and girls ), eating disorders, and challenges with food.  On top of that, more children are becoming lethargic and leading sedentary lifestyles —perhaps a function of new and fun technologies as much as more homework, more parents at work during the after school hours, and less “active time” during school hours due to budget cuts.

Interestingly, as children get older, their activity level drops dramatically.  In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health:

  • Ages 9-11 years old: More than 90% of the children evaluated met the recommended level of 60 minutes of more of MVPA per day.
  • Age 15: Only 31% met the recommended level of MVPA per weekday and only 17% met the recommended activity level on weekends.

Many of you who are reading this blog, like Lisa, are parents who are interested in getting their children active from a very young age.  There are many studies that show us that children who are active have fewer problems with weight and body image. So how can we get our kids to love being active?

(1)    Play with them: Children learn by what they see.  If their parents are sitting on the sidelines, they are more likely to do so too.  Get involved—bike ride with your kids—play hopscotch, jump-rope, and play ball in the back yard.  Join activities with them.  There are plenty of fun things you can do together! Try martial arts where family programs are prominent—or swimming programs that allow you to get in the pool with your kids. Get in touch with a Powerful Words Member School– so many of them have family programs!   By getting involved in an “active way” you relay “this is important—not just for you to do, but for the family.”

(2) Get messy and dirty: If children are always afraid to get their clothes dirty, they are less likely to get active.  Make sure that their play clothes are exactly that—for play.  And don’t be afraid to get dirty with them!  Run around—roll around—splash in puddles and get sweaty!  It’s fun and your kids will enjoy, well, being kids!  And don’t make the mistake that only boys should get messy—girls should too.  We never want our girls to think that they can’t be as active, powerful, and strong as the boys.  These sentiments get transferred to girls easily—so be sure that you are saying something empowering rather than destructive.

family_walk

(3) Make the time: There are so many things to do in the day—school, homework, piano practice, family time—that it’s often difficult to make time to get active.  But getting active isn’t something that should be negotiable or expendable. We need to make the time for it.  Children should be active for at least an hour per day! If they don’t like competitive sports, there are plenty of other activities that will get them moving—martial arts, gymnastics, dancing and swimming are all great ways to get active without necessarily getting competitive.

(4) Let them know that you’re proud: Whether they win, lose, have a tough day, or a great day, let them know you’re proud of the way they get out there and take responsibility for keeping their bodies healthy.  If we are constantly being judged on how well we did when we were active, we may be less apt to get active!  Praise effort over outcome—and determination over trophies and you will be helping your child learn to love activity.

(5) Help them to set goals: It’s fun to achieve. We achieve by setting appropriate goals for ourselves and then going after them!  Be warned though—make sure these are YOUR CHILD’S GOALS—not yours.  And be sure that these goals are not “in comparison to” a sibling, friend, or other peers.  Make your child’s physical goals something that is right for him or her—and that is completely about him or her and nobody else.  This is not “the biggest loser” or “Survivor.” Your child should not get “kicked off the island” if s/he isn’t as strong, fast, or successful as anyone else.

(6) Get them active inside too: While so many technologies are linked to sitting on the couch, there are also technologies that can get kids moving.  The Wii Fit and Dance Revolution are great ways to get active while inside on a rainy day– or just a day that the kids want to play with some neat technology. In fact, these games that are now being used as a source of fitness in gym classes. Studies are beginning to show that they “make a very positive contribution to players’ stress management, weight management, fitness and health.”

family_naturewalk

(7) Be innovative: Don’t love sports but love science? Go on nature walks! Prefers to history over hopscotch? Go walk the museums.  Think outside the box.  Sports aren’t the only way to get physical.  Children can get active by gardening, dancing, jump-roping, building and painting outside.  Go on camping trips or boating excursions. Splash in the rain. And again– all sports aren’t competitive with big crowds.  Your child might be more interested in individual activities and sports where they can work at their own pace and make their own personal goals. Moving the body feels good– it’s just a matter of finding out what your child loves best.

(6) Don’t tie it to weight: It would be easy to do so—after all, weight is a huge issue these days.  But when we tie physical activity to “exercise” and “losing weight” we make it seem like work—or punishment.  That’s no fun!  Children can be physically active at any size—so praise them for getting out there no matter what the scale says. 

In the end, we all want our children to get active to be healthy.  Our bodies need physical activity for the health of our cardio-vascular system, our muscles, our brains, and our souls.  It feels good to get active.  Let’s teach our children young to love getting up off the couch and moving around.  It will serve them well…for the rest of their lives.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Dora the Explorer Becomes Dora the Diva?

dora the explorersil_dora_newdora the explorer as a tween

Dora the Explorer Becomes Dora the Diva?

Dr. Robyn Silverman

Well, not exactly.  Seems that while many parents and my fellow bloggers got up in arms chanting “Say it isn’t so!” and “No Makeover for Dora! when Mattel released their controversial silhouette on the 6th, calling the new Dora a “tramp,” “streetwalker,” and a Lindsey Lohan Look-a-like.  Was she being stripped down like Miley Cyrus? There was worry that she could compromise body image, threaten her ability to empower our powerful girls, and stomp on their confidence. There was even a petition…that I was ready and willing to sign as soon as I got to see the full Dora (as of March 8th over 2000 signed).

But parents are changing their tune for this toon.

Dora hasn’t been made into the next “Bratz” and she isn’t wearing a micro-mini, but rather, a long shirt over leggings.  How nice ot Mattel to get so much extra play in the media before the reveal– I’m sure, knowing that parents would be shouting denegrating comments about the Dora silhouette and then finding themselves sitting down to a nice lunch of crow at the final reveal.  Not nice. Smart marketing. But not nice at all.

We are programmed to criticize, aren’t we?  But as parents, we are sensitive to media influence on our children as well as change that can affect how our children think and feel about themselves.  And we should. And, well,  nobody likes change.  They changed Strawberry Shortcake from a pudgy, cat-carrying kid to a slimmed-down tween and that was tough.  Perhaps something to do with nostalgia? Leaving well enough alone?  Or, as a body image specialist, we can say that it’s also about taking down that belly fat and strapping on some shape-skimming outfit can have a negative effect on our girls.  Somehow “freshening up” means going on a diet these days and of course, getting a little nip-tuck.

But anyway, back to our explorer in question.  Well, she’s not a Sesame Street Walker as we might have assumed.  But there are some issues.  She’s traded in her exploring boots for ballet slippers and her practical exploring shorts for a fashionable frock and leggings– what does that mean? Well, no more jungle explorations.  Which hurts.  I kind of liked how Dora wasn’t afraid to get dirty while traipsing along with her jungle friends. She lost her stocky toddler-like physique and traded it in for a stream-line look.  Yeah, I know, she definitely doesn’t have the Latin curves. Did you really expect them?

And yup, she’s pink-afied. And appears to be wearing some kind of lip gloss or lipstick.  Not so great. And let’s not forget that on her interactive computer games, girls can change her eye color and hair– which threatens her latina roots once again. Lyn Mikel Brown, author of Packaging Girlhood and  co-founder of Hardy Girls, Healthy Women in Waterville, Maine, and a person who I admire and appreciate, questions, “why change her appearance at all? Why is appearance so important?” Exactly.  And yet in our world, it is.

The good thing is that Mattel states that Dora  “will expand into the world of solving mysteries that have overt and relatable pro-social themes — like volunteerism, water conservation, or planting trees to help the environment.” Yeah, we like that.  That’s what we stress for Powerful Words— and any role model doing that is a good thing.

Well, what do you think? Sell out or upgrade? Sign of despair or sign of the times?

As always, we look forward to your comments.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Dr. Robyn Silverman Announces Birth of Daughter, Talia

silverman_familyDr. Robyn's daughter Talia

Hello everyone!

It’s been an exciting couple of days!  Many of you know that my husband and I have been matched to adopt our baby girl’s birth parents for 9 months.  Well, February 19th was the day!  Talia Paige Silverman was born on 2/19 at 10:19am weighing 5 pounds, 6 ounces and measuring 16 inches long.

Dr. Robyn holidng baby Talia

We are so grateful to have been there for her birth!  Our Tallie was supposed to be born on Monday, Febrary 24th after 6pm through induction.  However, she didn’t get the memo and decided that earlier was better.  Our birth mom went in for her check up last Tuesday and was already dialated to 3 centimeters– on Wednesday she was told her fluid was down to a 6 and our daughter would be here very soon.  Thursday was the day!  We flew out as soon as we heard that the induction was going to be moved up.  After delays in Atlanta, due to weather, we arrived in Oklahoma at 2am, went to our hotel, took a 55 minute nap, and were off to the hospital for the 6am induction.  Funny, I think our Talia was thinking “induction insmuction”– she was coming anyway.  Our birth mom was already at 4-5 centimeters!

Dr robyn in scrubs

With me, my husband, our birth mom and our birth father all in the delivery room, we felt surrounded by love and gratitude.  What a blessing.  Our birthmom only needed to push 1 1/2 times before Tallie made her way into the world.  After getting cleaned off, weighed and measured, and my husband cut the cord, she was handed to me for our first encounter.  She was beautiful and so small!  I had the honor of being able to introduce Talia to our birthmom, exactly as we all had planned it together, and it was one of the most beautiful and precious moments of my life.  We all felt like family before the birth and we became family after.

After spending a few days in the hospital with our little girl, we’re now settled into an apartment for a few days as the paperwork goes from state to state for approval.  It’s been an amazing few days.  We got together with our birth family for sushi the other night and I’ll be making a turkey dinner for everyone, including some extended family, tomorrow night.  Perhaps you might be surprised by that– but there has been nothing typical about this adoption.  It’s been a pleasure in everyway.

Dr. Robyn and daughter talia

Our birthmom courageously went to court this morning and did the most loving thing for Talia–legal custody is now ours.  She is the bravest, most thoughtful person we know.  It’s been such an honor to have gone on this journey with her.   Through countless text messages, phone calls, emails, and precious conversations, she has been so thoughtful to include me in every part of the pregnancy. I’ll discuss this more in future posts– but know this, adoption can be easy, and lovely, and wonderful in every way if you choose to make it that way, follow the signs, and open your heart.

Talia being held by Jason Silverman

I’m excited to share our unusual and spectacular experience with all of you. I’m even coaching some people through part of the process. In addition, our social worker, our birth mom, and myself are planning to run a teleconference so people can hear about our outstanding experience and how it can be. So contact us if you’re interested so we can send you some information when we plan it.

Please feel free to ask questions.  There are so many unfortunate myths about adoption itself, open adoption in particular, and US adoption to boot.  And while we acknowledge that not everyone has the same experience as we did– my point is, that it’s possible to have it this way– adoption doesn’t have to be a series of mishaps, broken hearts, and years on end of waiting. We are living the reality– and it’s wonderful. We’re proud of our journey and hope it will inspire others out there who are thinking about adoption…and perhaps even open adoption like ours.

The Proud Mommy,

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Too Shy? One Child’s Journey from Wallflower to Winner

Jessie when she was a shy child

Shy Children Breaking Out of Their Shells

Dr. Robyn Silverman

I’ve received an interesting question from a concerned father after I posted an article about 10 tips for working or parenting shy children. “Have you ever really seen a shy child who came out of her shell?” Yes I have.  It’s a true story that I tell when I present on working with all different kinds of students at national conferences. And today, I’d love to share it with you.

I know parents have been a little alarmed about what might happen to their shyer children as they grow up.  DO they grow “out of it?” This concern has grown since the news came out this July about babies who were born too prematurely are more likely to grow up to be timid and less likely to get married and have children.

Eight year old Jessie was the quintessential wallflower. Short with straight brown hair, she always stood in the back line, last person on the right. If she didn’t have a wall to stand behind, her body language seemed to create one.

Her teacher, Guro Jason, made sure to start noticing her. Slowly at first, he made eye contact. He provided an encouraging word. He nodded at her from across the room.

Overtime, Jesse showed that her focus was sharp and her skills were clean. Her instructor began to spotlight her during class. “Great execution, Jessie. Great finesse!” He turned the class’s attention towards her as an example, even where she stood, in the back line near the wall. She would tell us later, no teacher ever really noticed her before.

Jessie’s hard work earned her a spot in the Black Belt Club. Her new uniform seemed to make her stand taller than she did before.

One week, Guro Jason asked to talk to Jessie after class. “I’ve been impressed with your consistent good work in class. If I called on you, would you be open to being my demo partner for one of the skills we’re learning in class? Jessie looked nervous, but, as she would months later, “he made me believe in me.” So Jessie quietly said “yes, sir.

Jessie doing a demonstration of some stretching

Before class, Jason pre-framed Jessie. At first, he asked her to show an easy stretch that he knew she felt comfortable executing. But later, he would ask her to show some of her stick work, which, while new, she seemed to catch onto quickly.

After a few weeks of having Jessie demonstrate the same drills over and over, Guro Jason had a special request. “Would you be open to leading the entire intermediate level (across classes) in this stick drill during graduation? Graduation was performed in front of hundreds of people. She looked petrified. Still, she said a little more loudly that before, “yes sir.

Jessie practicing for graduation

Jessie practiced everyday.  She was focused.  She was ready.

At graduation, Jessie stood in front of 125 other students. Set” Guro Jason yelled. And something in this little girl clicked. She reached within herself and called out, loudly enough to fill the middle school gym, “Yes, Sir!” Her counts were loud, her eyes, focused, and her movements, flawless. People clapped and cheered. Her parents cried. OK, I cried.

After graduation, people remarked how martial arts transformed Jessie into a different kid. But I had to correct them. By allowing her to take on a leadership position that fit her skill set, in her own time, we were allowing her to transform herself from wallflower to winner.

Thanks for visiting! Please give us your tips for working and parenting children who seem shy, nervous, or timid.  And if you have a child who may seem a bit shy, please contact me and I would be happy to give you a list of Powerful Words member schools by you.  It’s a great opportunity for children to realize their own potential in their own time.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Dr. Robyn Silverman Announces…We’re Adopting a Baby!

OUr baby- 18 weeks in utero

Our baby- 18 weeks in utero-- Looking very content!

We’re adopting a baby!
Dr. Robyn Silverman

We’re excited to announce to our Powerful Parent community that we’re adopting a baby, due March 1st!  We’ve been matched with a wonderful couple since early July.  We couldn’t be more excited!

The picture above is from our ultrasound appointment that we went to in early October with our birth-parents.  We found out at that time, we would be having a daughter!

We’ll be going out for the birth in about 5-6 weeks and are honored to be included in the delivery room.

FAQ  about Dr. Robyn’s adoption:

(1) What country are you adopting from? United States

(2) Do you know what you’re having? It’s a girl!

(3) What kind of adoption is it? Open adoption. We speak/text with the birth parents often and have become quite close.  We adore them.  Our birth mom tell us what’s going on with the pregnancy, plays the CD we made for the baby each day, and sends us pictures as she grows.  She even sent us a picture of the baby kicking at her belly! We are thrilled that we’ll continue to have contact with them after the birth to update them on how the baby is doing, send them pictures, and visit, when possible! After doing a lot of reading on open adoption, we decided that it was the best option for us because we want our child to have the opportunity to ask questions, know who her birth parents are, and get the full story with no secrets. When we met our birth parents face to face, we were even more certain of our decision.

(4) Was the adoption process grueling? No, we’ve had a great experience.  Once we got approved for our home study, which happened very quickly, we were matched with our wonderful birth parents 15 days later.  It’s been a pleasure getting to know them and being a part of the pregnancy since our baby was only 5 weeks in utero. What an amazing blessing!

(5) Aren’t you nervous that…At first, of course we were nervous.  It was all so new! But as we’ve had the opportunity to talk, spend time, and get to know our birth-parents, we are certain of our decision just as our birth mom is certain of hers.  I think of myself as a great judge of character, after all, it’s what I do!  We really like and respect our birth parents and they’ve been forthright in expressing their feelings towards us and the adoption as well.  Our face to face visit with them in October made all 4 us know we were destined to meet. Since then, our mutual positive feelings for each other have been reaffirmed time and time again.

Feel free to ask questions.  We are so happy about our adoption and are grateful for all the love and support that our friends and family have given us during this incredibly special time.  We wanted to let you in on the good news as well.

Warm regards,

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Dr. Robyn

Some other blogs that cover adoption/children who were adopted:

Mother Issues

Mamahood and more

Hearts Wide Open

Diabulimia: Does my friend have Diabulimia?

Ask Dr. Robyn: Does my friend have Diabulimia?  Is Diabulimia a “big deal?”

I received a question from Jennifer in NJ whose friend has Diabetes and is currently losing a lot of weight.  Jennifer is concerned about whether her friend might have Diabulimia and if her behaviors might be causing a real problem.  This video answers, “What is Diabulimia?” and “How do I know if someone might be having a problem with Diabulimia?”

If you or someone you know is having a problem with Diabulimia, please get help.

Please comment below about Diabulimia, your take on the problem, or your stories. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Dr. Robyn is Guest Editor for Dove Self Esteem Fund!

dove self esteem fund

Dr. Robyn Silverman

How do you explain real beauty to a girl?

Joining Dove Self Esteem Embassador, Jessica Weiner and psychologist and author, Ann Kearney Cooke, I am honored to have been asked to be the guest editor for the Dove Self Esteem Fund. Do you know about the great efforts of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty that teaches girls not to get sucked into the media hype about thinness as well as the importance of loving “the skin you’re in?” They do films, workshops, and education for girls, moms and anyone who loves or works with girls.

The question I was asked to answer for preteen and teen girls was: How do you explain real beauty to a girl?

Here’s the full article and bio.

Highlights from the article include:

If you asked me about real beauty, you might be surprised by what I say…when I was 14 years old, there was an enormous billboard in our town center of a woman in an expensive dress looking down on the street through heavily made up eyes.  I thought she was perfect; unblemished, flawless, and yes, a real beauty. As I look back, I realize how wrong I was to think that way…she was digitally modified, primped, preened, puffed up and paired down…what’s really beautiful about someone who doesn’t really exist?

We want girls to realize that real beauty is in their best friend– their mom– and in themselves.  So I included passages such as this one:

Real beauty doesn’t need to be all made up or dressed in fancy clothes. It’s imperfectly perfect. It’s your best friend’s contagious zest for life that you see every time she pretends to pose for glamour shots while wearing a fuzzy bathroom and hippo-patterned pajamas. It’s the two of you singing into a hairbrush and dancing to some ridiculous song on the radio– just because it’s fun. Just because you can. Yes, real beauty is in your best friend…

Read the rest of the article!

What do you think real beauty is all about?  How would you explain it to your daughter, your niece, your student, or other girls you love?

Please comment below– we’d love to hear what you have to say!

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Girls Feel Pressure to Grow Up Too Fast, Study Says

Girls Feel Anxiety about Pressure to Fast-Track Their Development

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

Between the magazine articles telling girls to lose weight, glossies telling her that she’ll never measure up , young celebrities withering away along with their clothes, models getting thinner and thinner, and the massive pressures in school and among friends to look the best, a generation of girls are being affected. Poor body image, poor body esteem, mental health issues, and low self worth abound.

Negative messages are everywhere. Even our daughter’s clothes and favorite dolls and toys are getting a boost, a lift, a pout, and a “push” to grow up sooner and sexier than ever before. Some, you just have to wonder, are the retailers kidding?

So who could be surprised that girls are showing some wear and tear from today’s sexualized, body-bashing culture? A recent study out of the UK reveals that the pressure to grow up too soon is one the greatest influences on girls’ well being, according to the girls themselves! The pressure to wear clothes that make them look older, entertain sexual advances from boys, lose weight according to the directions in the media, and even consider plastic surgery to “improve looks” were identified as pressures that were particularly damaging.

One participant explained: “When I was eleven I read a teenage magazine for the first time and that is when it kind of clicked, ‘I should be like this.’”

Here’s the scoop:

Who was studied? Girls between the ages of 10 and 14 years old. Qualitative (descriptive) information was collected through focus groups consisting of 54 girls, divided by age. Quantitative (the numbers and percents) data were collected through polls online, in which 350 girls participated.

By Whom: Girlguiding UK, the Mental Health Foundation, and leading researchers Opinion Leader.

What was studied? The report considers a new generation of potential triggers for mental health problems in girls – premature sexualization, commercialization and alcohol misuse – and also some of the more longstanding issues like bullying and family breakdown. It examines the impact of such factors on girls’ feelings and behavior at home and in their communities, and asks young women themselves what might be done to help.

What did they find?

§ Mental Health Issues: Many girls reported that they had direct experience with friends and people who they knew who were suffering from some kind of mental health problem.

o Two-fifths know someone who has self-harmed

o One third of the girls have a friend who has suffered from an eating disorder

o Half new girls who were suffering from depression

o Almost two in five had friends who had experienced panic attacks.

o Many girls felt strongly that self-harm was within the spectrum of normal teenage behavior – as long as it happened infrequently– and was not necessarily an indication of a mental health issue.

o A sixth of those surveyed often feel angry

o Half admit they find anger hard to manage.

o Around a quarter often worry (28%) and feel like no-one understands them (25%) while around half find both emotions hard to handle.

§ Gotta Have It! Increased pressure to have money for the latest electronics and clothes means pressure for the girls.

o One-in-five girls report feeling anger and sadness

o A quarter of the girls feel worried or bad about themselves.

§ Fodder for Bullies? Girls felt that the growing check-list of “ideals” for young girls was giving bullies additional excuses to single them out – leading to stress, unhappiness and anxiety.

As one girl admitted: “If I get bored then I start becoming really aggressive.”

§ Is my body OK? Media is a major culprit.

o Looking at pictures of models, pop-stars and actresses makes a fifth feel sad, two-fifths feel bad about themselves and 12 per cent feel angry.

o Media stories that portray young people in a bad light make half the girls who took part angry (50 per cent), a quarter worried (23 per cent) and almost two-fifths sad.

· Read the full study: A Generation Under Stress

Study after study is showing that girls are under stress…and duress in their normal, everyday lives. Yet, our culture continues to churn out manufactured, thinned-out celebrities, sexualized play-things, inappropriate clothes, and media to deliver the 1-2 punch.

Now, more than ever, it’s vital that we provide our girls with positive role models, positive body messages, and positive activities and powerful environments that show them they are so much more than a 2-dimensional object there to be critiqued, criticized, and put-down.

What are your thoughts on this recent study? Any ideas with regard to what to do next? Yes, we need these girls to have a pivotal moment when they know they’re worthwhile—but even more than that—we need to promote positive development in these girls from the start so that this problem is markedly reduced in the first place. Otherwise, we are simply averting our eyes…aren’t we? I mean, how bad does it have to get before we pay attention?

Here’s to Making Our Girls Feel and Become Powerful–

Makeover Madness for Children’s Cartoons? Less belly fat, more muscles, and a cell phone

It appears that our yesterday’s favorite cartoon characters are getting extreme makeovers to cater to the modern tastes of today’s kids. According to the New York Times, these classic characters are being “freshened up” in order to add upward momentum to the rough sloping economy.

Apparently, the YouTube generation is interested in less belly fat and more muscles. Less “cutesy” and more streamline. Fewer calories and more cell phones. Seriously. What ever happened to nostalgia for days when we didn’t need to think about all that stuff?

Impossibly thin waists and the buff bods have been popular among fairy princesses and hulky princes, respectively, but how about the Care-bears and Little Miss Shortcake?

Strawberry Shortcake went under the figurative knife and was revealed this past Tuesday. Labeled a “fruit-forward” makeover, she was stripped of her bloomers, went on a diet (no more sweets, more fruit!), put down her cat, and picked up a cell phone. No more freckles and of course, more pink—now her signature color in place of her customary red. She looks a lot more “little mermaid” than “strawberry sweetie” from yesteryear.

Toys and toons aimed at boys are also getting a little nip-tuck. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are loosing a bit of their ‘tude and gaining more muscles. Think—turtles on steroids.

Other nostalgic characters getting a face—and body-lift? Bugs bunny, Scoobie Doo, and the Care bears, the latter getting a little lipo to loose the belly fat and eyelash extensions to enhance the eyes.

The companies are trying to appeal to the kids without going too far—attempting to stay away from the hypersexualized and increasingly violent media landscape ever-present today. Even Mickey Mouse will be getting into the action.

Companies like Disney are giving nostalgic characters an update in an attempt to appeal to both modern kids and today’s parents–parents who are trying to protect their youngsters from seeing too much, considering the recent Miley Cyrus exposure and other young stars who are becoming less predictable and more out of control. Not to mention other brands that have gone way to far towards sexualizing the most mundane toys to appeal to Paris-Hilton-like children such as the Disney HorsesStrutz (for girls who are on the cutting edge of what’s hot in fashion)

They’re also wary of changing their brand too much or sending out items that parents don’t like as Mattel did in 1993 when they spruced up the classic Ken doll with a poorly chosen purple mesh T-shirt, leather vest, earring, and high-lighted coif. Warner Brothers made a similar marketing mistake when they revamped Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck in 2005, full with mohawks and crazy eyes in the series “Lunatics.”

Are cartoon portrayals such a big deal?

According to numerous studies, it may be.

“the depictions about gender roles seen by children could impact and interact with both the expectations they develop about relationships and appropriate behavior, and their future life decisions. It is important to keep in mind, too, that the concern about stereotyping is not less severe because these are cartoons and not “real life.” Although this issue has not been definitely settled by research, several studies have indicated that young children accept fantasy as reality and cannot always distinguish well between the two. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research by Thompson et al.

WEIGH IN

What do you think? Is it a good thing for these toy and cartoon companies to reflect a more streamline, beauty-oriented, techno-culture in our children’s cartoons or should they be leaving things the way they are? Are cartoons getting too sexed up for the kids or are people making too much of a big deal about the whole thing?

Please comment below!

Looking forward to hearing your opinions.

Photo credits: New York Times, Google, Strutz Site, TOFC, themanbehindtheearring.com, wikipedia

Disney Princesses Sexualizing Your Daughters? Dr. Robyn Responds

It can be difficult to cope when it seems that our children are growing up too soon. Parents often have a love-hate relationship with much of the media when it comes to their children. Especially their daughters. On the one hand you have the hypersexualization of women and girls in music videos, magazines, internet games and advertisements, and on the other hand you have the classics we all used to love—like Sesame Street and Disney. But as adults, even are old favorites sometimes get on our nerves. Yes, as parents, we have a new perspective.

The following article is a guest post from Vicki, a parent, just like you, who just wants what’s best for her child. As Powerful Parents who know the importance of character education and values discussions in families, we’d love to hear your perspective. You can read her article as well as my response to her regarding at least some ways that she can deal with her frustrations with the Disney Princesses and Barbie, who have clearly gotten on her last nerve.

The Princesses Are Sexualizing My Daughter

Reagan has been “into” the Disney Princesses for years now. INTO them. She’s got reading books, coloring books, sticker books, puzzles, dress-up clothes, regular clothes, CDs, movies, toys, dolls, you name it she’s had one with a princess somewhere on it. We even went to Disney World in conjunction with her sixth birthday so she could enjoy meeting the princesses while she was still in that phase.

There was a time when we tried to ban the princesses. It was a couple years ago and we were idealistic thinking that if we told everyone that we weren’t “doing” the princesses that they would stop giving her things with princesses on them. That did not work. And the ban seemed to deepen her interest. Funny how that works. We couldn’t really express why we were banning them. That would lead to more questions.

“Why can’t I have that Princess coloring book?”
“Because we don’t do Princesses?”
“Why don’t we do Princesses?”
“Because they promote the wrong image?”
“What’s an image?” “What’s promote?” “Why don’t we do Princesses?”
“Here’s the coloring book.”

That’s not how it would end. She wouldn’t get the coloring book. But eventually we gave in and she did start acquiring that stuff again. At some time we thought we could counteract the Princesses. We introduced her to Veggie Tales, Dora, Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears, Hello Kitty (I will never understand why someone finds princesses better than Hello Kitty. She is the best. The. End.), and many other characters. Her desire was always for the Princesses.

Now she knows practically everything about them. What is starting to bother me is that she’s starting to emulate them. Wanting to be more like them. For a while when she would put on a nightgown with a stretchy neck, she’d pull it off one shoulder and walk around with her head tilted towards that shoulder. And look at us with batting eyes. I would promptly ask her to

“Cover your shoulder, girls don’t dress like that.”
“So and so Princess does.”
“You’re not So and so Princess.”

We could live with that because there ain’t no way she’s exiting the house while under my supervision with a shoulder bare like that (visualize me doing the three snap). Unless she’s got a part in some 80s theater production and has on a super baggy sweatshirt and some type of covering underneath.

BUT NOW!!! THE REASON I’M BABBLING ON!!! Just the other night, after her dance recital, she had a friend spend the night. They were getting ready for bed in the bathroom and this is what I heard:

Reagan: “Do you know who my boyfriend is?”
Friend: “Who?”
R: “E****. It used to be S****, and then P****, but now it’s E****.”
F: Crickets
R: “I’d so kiss him. I really would. I really would kiss him.”

WHAT!!??!!??!!?? Where is she getting this stuff from?!?!? It took a couple of days to process. It’s from the freaking Princess characters. And Barbie, she’s not off the hook either. They all are lost in some way. They all need to be saved. They all find their knight in shining armor (or however he may be dressed). And they all kiss in the end with that stupid look of love between them. And what I’m just beginning to realize is this:

You can’t really tell how old the princesses are can you!?!? Or Barbie…

NO, you can’t. The only one, I believe, who mentions her age is Ariel. Disobeying her father at a ripe old age of 16. All of these Princesses look young and girls can totally see themselves playing the part. In fact, mentally picturing all of them, I couldn’t place an age on any of them. Heck, I could see myself playing the part. Girls are learning, ever so subtly, that at their young age they should be finding their one true love and kissing them and getting married.

I don’t think Reagan knows what she means when she says that she really would kiss this boy. She sees Mommy and Daddy kiss and hug, mind you not enough, but I doubt she actually has the moxie to go up and kiss a boy that she doesn’t even have the guts to tell that he’s her boyfriend. How do I know that? Sunday School. You know, the place they’re supposed to go and learn about Jesus? Reagan told a friend that E**** was her boyfriend. So this girl marches right up to him and tells him. His reaction. Nothing. I’m so glad.

So, what’s a Mom and Dad to do? We’re so deep into Princesses and Barbie. Will nightly conversations about this remedy the situation? Will banning the stuff with zero tolerance starting now work? Where is Dr. Dobson when you want to have a heart to heart with him right on the living room sofa? Pray for us please. And seriously, give suggestions.

Dear Vicki,

It’s frustrating to raise girls when media keeps telling them that they need to look a certain way in order to get attention. The Disney princess enterprise keeps growing, it’s not going anywhere, and it’s certainly something that many parents must deal with everyday.

I’ve got several ideas but let’s start here.

  • Ask her about them: What does she loves about the princesses? You may be surprised. There are always things we like and dislike about friends and other people in our lives– but we don’t shut them out even if we don’t agree with them. Perhaps what she likes about them could be something that you like about them to…which leads me to my next tip…
  • Go Positive: Take the Powerful Words approach and build from the positive side. Find something that you like about those princesses– do they have determination and go after something they really want? Do they have goals and dreams? Do they have nice singing voices? Do they show that they’re good friends to their friends? Are they kind? Grateful? Giving? Start focusing on the positive. Praise what you like.
  • Cite the Negative: You can also be very straightforward about what you don’t like about them so that your daughter is clear about your values. In the spirit of “honesty” month, be clear yet age appropriate. Is it their style of dress? Their choices? Their “pinkness?” We want our daughters to get out of the habit of thinking that girls can only look, act, and be one way. Let them know what bothers you and keep it simple.
  • Model What You Want to See: As you know, since I write a character curriculum and advise parents on instilling values in their children, I often talk about modeling and discussing what you would like to see in your children. Your example is stronger than any 2-dimensional character could ever be.
  • Expose Her to Fabulous 3-D Role Models: Have some great friends or local heroes that really show your daughter what a girl can become? Allow your daughter to have “tea” or lunch with them. The more we can expose our girls to powerful, positive women and teens, the more they will see that reality is much better than fantasy.
  • Get Her Into A Positive Activity: Challenge the stereotypes and ensure that your daughter is involved in activities that isn’t all pink and frills. Choose sports that make her feel powerful. Perhaps a martial arts, power tumbling or modern dance class would bring out a different side of her. Any of the Powerful Words Member Schools will also ensure that she’s learning strong character development—not just the physical—which will get her to thrive from the inside out.

If she knows what you like and what you don’t like, is challenging the stereotypes, and is exposed to powerful, positive women, you might be surprised the next time you pass by the bathroom filled with girls– she may just say something like “I like that she’s good to her friends but she doesn’t always make the best choices.”

Let me know how it goes.

Other articles or cites that deal with similar media topics:

Girls Media Maven

Corporate Babysitter:

Final Call

Packaging Girlhood

Shaping Youth