Preteenagers Today - iParenting Media Network - Positive Preteens ...
Positive Preteen Role Models
By Kelly Burgess, March 03, 2006
Addie Schwartz calls it the "pornification" of society. She's talking about so-called "role models" like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears flaunting their party girl lifestyles; clothing styles more appropriate for a layout in a soft-porn men's magazine than the middle-school hallways; and messages on T-shirts that glorify the "mean girls" culture, saying things like "I had a nightmare I was a brunette."
These derogatory and sexually charged messages appall and worry many parents, but Schwartz put her dismay into action. She founded the company B*tween Productions Inc., a consumer/entertainment brand committed to the health and well-being of girls ages 9 to 13. The flagship product is the Beacon Street Girls book series, featuring five girls from disparate backgrounds who navigate the sometimes difficult world of middle school with humor and humanity.
They'll Always Have Paris
The Beacon Street Girls were born when Schwartz's oldest daughter was 9 and began growing out of dolls and other toys targeted to very young girls. Unfortunately, as Schwartz soon discovered, there wasn't really much available for girls in the "tween" age group that she felt was appropriate to their stage of development. Schwartz figured she couldn't be the only mother in the world worried about the messages being sent to preteen girls by the heavy press given to Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Jessica Simpson.
"It's not even just the starlets that are everywhere; it's the ads as well," says Schwartz. "It's gotten to a point where these sexual images have subtly infiltrated every aspect of our lives. I hear all the time from other parents that they feel like girls are under siege from advertisers who want them to go directly from 9 to 19. This is particularly detrimental at this transitional state when their bodies are changing and they're just learning their strengths and weaknesses."
And it's not just television and other electronic and print media. Many fiction books aimed at that age group are often filled with sexual and other mature themes that preteens may not be ready for. Schwartz, who has an MBA from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University, decided to start by addressing that particular market. Using seed money from the successful sale of her software business, she gathered a staff of savvy businesswomen, and they gave birth to the Beacon Street Girls: Charlotte, Maeve, Avery, Isabel and Katani.
While the Beacon Street Girls are primarily wholesome young ladies who, ultimately, make the right choices, they're also faced in each book with dilemmas that test their character and their friendships. "The Beacon Street girls are good role models because they do have both strengths and weaknesses, just like the girls we're targeting," says Schwartz. "But at the end of the day, they do what's right, and that can be a blueprint for a young girl who's reading this to follow if she finds herself in a similar situation."
Each of the books addresses real-life situations that modern middle-school girls may find themselves in, including divorce, competition, being the "new kid," the clique culture, and, in the most recent book, Lake Rescue (B*tween Productions Inc., 2005), obesity. The authors' goals (each of the books is written by a collaborative of authors under the pseudonym Annie Bryant) are to provide moral guidance in a hip, fun package. For example, Lake Rescue aims for several morals: One is how to personally create a healthy lifestyle, and another is acceptance of and kindness toward others.
"Childhood obesity is a very real problem, but along with the increased focus on the problem, harassment has become a big issue," says Schwartz. "Even beyond obesity, kids who may look different are often teased or ignored. We went to experts around the country to get some ideas for the best ways to deal with these types of situations and incorporated them into this book."
If You Can't Beat Them...
Schwartz has come under some criticism for her corporate approach to finding positive role models for preteens, but she vigorously defends it as one that reaches a wider audience in today's brand-based world than other approaches would. "There's no way to stop the onslaught, and I'm not for stopping it," says Schwartz. "I'm for freedom of speech, but there should be an alternative for those looking for a place to help them figure out who they are and build their self-esteem in a more productive and positive manner. I'm creating an alternative."
Clearly parents (and their preteens) need an alternative. While it's tempting to react to the over-sexualization of society by shutting out the world, even the most family-focused organizations admit that's probably neither realistic nor desirable. Betsy Taylor, founder of the Center for a New American Dream, a nonprofit organization focused on helping Americans become more responsible consumers, says that completely banning something from children turns it into the Holy Grail, and that can cause as many problems as it solves. Rather, a parent needs to actively involve themselves in guiding their children's choices. "Don't cut them or yourself off completely from the commercial world, because it's not realistic," says Taylor. "It's all about making sure you have balance and that you continue to be the main force in your children's lives."
In the preteen age group, parents are still the primary focus of their children's lives, and according to many studies, kids this age still look up to their parents and enjoy spending time with them. They may be beyond curling up with us and having us read Goodnight Moon for the thousandth time, but we can still share books that send positive, loving messages appropriate for little girls, not spoiled starlets.