Monday, April 19, 2010

The Knee-Jerk Reaction

This is about the padded bras for seven year olds controversy, a bathing suit that has already been banned from sale in many localities. And while some are saying "good riddance to that female-repressing, pedophile-attracting piece of cloth!" others, like in this opinion piece, are exercising a bit of common sense.
But this is the age of Mumsnet. And there's nothing the Mumsnet mob likes better than a bit of a moral panic, particularly if it can be linked to a downmarket chain store. Such is the website's sway at the moment, that its criticism of the bikini saw it lambasted by David Cameron and taken off the shelves in record time, with Primark offering to donate any profits made on it to a children's charity. Call me a sexual libertarian, but that does seem to be a bit of an overreaction and proof that – when it comes to children – we are prone to knee-jerk behaviour.
I love coming across a word that so precisely fits what we see adults doing in society. If people are good at creating cutesy little labels for children and teens' silly little behaviors, then let's create a silly little label for the adults' silly little behaviors as well, we'll call it, pulling the knee-jerk. And nothing could be a better representation of the knee-jerk than the overreaction as described above, but then again, who are we to interfere with such a generous and "from the heart" donation to a children's charity? Why does it seem that children's charities wait around to soak up people's guilt money from one moral panic to the next?
A particular bugbear is the way in which outfits which pander to a little girl's desire to be grown up are being presented as a virtual charter for paedophilia, even though there is no evidence of a link between so-called "sexy" clothing and the sexual abuse of minors.
It's an age-old excuse, "we can't liberate children because then the monsters will get them," and it unfortunately seems to be the prevailing attitude despite it's ludicrousness. It's only obvious that adults just don't like seeing a mature child, it doesn't fit their social paradigm. Then this article really turns up the heat on the opposition and spits their own rhetoric right back in their face:
Suggesting that a mother shouldn't dress her daughter in a padded bra because it might attract unwanted attention is perilously close to telling a woman in a mini-skirt she is asking to be raped.
You go girl!
The real issue with the premature sexualisation of girls is not the way it might affect how others see them, but the way it might affect how they see themselves.
Of course this is the other side of the moral panic issue, and it's at this point the article begins devolving down it's own trail of tears to the land of moral-panic, but it's understandable, because unlike the child molester link, low self-esteem in girls is a real life issue. However, the so-called sexualization of children doesn't inevitably lead to low self esteem, and pinning the responsibility for shaping each girl's level of confidence on a clothing store is just being irresponsible.

It's not the stores' responsibility to nurture the pro-social development of children. That is and always should be the parent's. We saw the same moral-panic reasoning with the "Boys are Stupid, Throw Rocks at Them" shirts, which prompted a whole storm of knee-jerk reactions all around the country, and the same is happening all over again with these padded bras for seven year olds. You could almost set your watch by the accuracy of this endless social waltz.

God forbid children grow up faster than we deem them too. God help us from the knee-jerk reaction.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Puberty Doesn't Make You Stupid

Once again, professional journalists leave professionalism at the door to reinforce adult prejudices and upset young people. Time has recently run an article called Does Puberty Make You Stupid? Lessons from Mice, about a recent study that seems to indicate that teens in the throes of puberty are not as good as older teens at basic puzzle tasks. The article isn't exactly clear at what kind of activity pubertal teens are so inept at, mixing research on pubescent mice and typical associations made about the so-called hapless nature of teens into one hodge-podge of speculation.

Could this article have been written with less tact? Could it have possibly been written any more disrespectfully? Can't we call "stupid" here a judgment call? I hardly believe the research on mice puzzle solution times translates into "pubescent teens are stupid" as the thrust of this article seems to be suggesting. And one can justify an article angle of this type on the grounds that it's supposed to be humorous only if they're then prepared to take the litmus test--if we change "puberty" to "being black" is it still so funny? If not, then it's not justifiable.

Up until 20 years ago, scientists believed that the human brain was largely mature by puberty. Apparently, they had failed to notice the irrational behavior and flaky thinking of teenagers. Now, of course, we know that the human brain continues to undergo serious restructuring well into the 20s.
The research may be onto something a little less pedestrian than this obvious pandering to the parents. You don't suppose the fact that teens are treated like mice has anything to do with the fact that their behaviors are so similar when it comes to puberty? Stick an adult in a cage and restrict their movements to the extent that teens are experiencing these days, and let's see an adult not begin to behave "flaky."

Sophisticated brain-scan studies by Jay Giedd at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) have shown dramatic changes throughout the teenage years as excess gray matter is pruned from the prefrontal cortex — the seat of higher-order thinking and making judgments (like not smoking weed right before your chemistry exam). Meanwhile, behavioral studies have shown what every parent already knows: teens have poor control over impulses and a tendency toward risk taking.
As a former psychology student, I can at least confirm that excess neuron proliferation and pruning happens throughout life. Synapses that are no longer being used are constantly dying off and being replaced by ones that are. While it is correct that teens are more risk-taking than adults, why does this always necessarily have to be a bad thing in the adult media? Do they want complacent youth who never question authority or take risks? Are not entrepreneurs risk takers? If teens are going to be greater risk takers, the expression of their risk taking--whether it inspires them become entrepreneurs or provokes them to drive offensively or do drugs has almost everything to do with how adults have raised them. If the teen is doing something to put themselves in jeopardy, don't blame their biology, blame the parents, blame society.

But in a magazine whose readership is notably adults, don't expect that to happen any time soon.