We Had to Change the Channel: Helping Girls Navigate Media

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My nine-year-old daughter is newly interested in “big kid” shows. Though she still loves cartoons, she hears about other shows from her friends and wants to see what the fuss is all about. Sigh. If I’m being honest, I’ve been avoiding TV content for older girls like the plague.

So I did what I always do: I turned to Common Sense Media for some guidance on the matter. In the end, I found that there are some fantastic Amazon Original Series for girls in my daughter’s age range. If you’re interested, my daughter highly recommends “Just Add Magic,” “Gortimer Gibbon's Life on Normal Street,” and “The Kicks.”

The thing is … she still wanted to watch some of those shows she heard about in dance class. So I sat down with her and made a deal: We’ll watch together, but if either of us feels uncomfortable, we turn it off and talk about it. Four minutes into an episode of “Dog With a Blog,” we stared at each other in confusion. Why must girl characters be so ditzy? Needless to say, we turned it off and revisited an ongoing discussion on how the media portrays girls.

Whether or not we allow our girls to look through glossy magazines or watch “tween” programs, they are exposed to this stuff.

The moment girls enter school, they learn about things from other kids. Sometimes they learn really great and interesting stuff, but other times they learn about inappropriate song lyrics and shows that reduce girls to boy-crazy airheads.

We can’t protect our girls from every single outside influence, but we can empower them to think twice and question the norms. Sure, it can be uncomfortable to have these conversations, but it’s best to have them early and often.

Break it down.

We love to dissect print ads in this house. I don’t read gossip magazines, but even the fairly benign ads in Real Simple are fairly absurd if you stop and take a closer look.

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I encourage both of my kids to look at an ad and look for the holes. Would a mom really be wearing heels to mop the floor? Of course not! When we teach kids to compare the fantasy version to the reality version, they learn to let go of the perception of perfection.

Watch together.

Believe me, I know what it feels like to want to do every chore during that small window of daily screen time. When they’re watching Curious George, that’s doable. When they move up to tween programming, however, the themes are a bit more complicated.

Watching TV and movies together opens the door to otherwise difficult topics to discuss, like bullying, friendship woes, boys, and puberty. Don’t park your daughter in front of these shows and walk away. Remain engaged and chat about the shows after they end.

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Side note: My mom watched every episode of “Beverly Hills, 90210” with me when I was in high school – not because she loved the show so much, but because it gave us time to connect and talk about the hard stuff.

Seek out healthy role models.

My daughter loved watching the Olympic gymnasts this summer. She also tuned in for a bunch of other sports and was awestruck by women’s fencing!

Young girls are bombarded by media images of model-thin girls with perfect features, perfect trendy clothes, and perfect hair. Who knew “Lego Friends” would be full of alarming stereotypes?

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Help your child find healthy role models and talk about what makes them healthy. Not only did my daughter and I talk about how strong Simone Biles is, but we also talked about how she presented herself both online and in live interviews. In watching Simone soar and cheering her on, my daughter saw what it means to be a strong, assertive, and gritty girl in this world.

How do you talk to your girl/s about media?

 

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We Had to Change the Channel: Helping Girls Navigate Media

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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