Category Archives: Media, Advertising and Pop Culture

Don’t Bratz Dora!

The new DoraI should have seen this coming when Dora went all Princess a few years ago. Now she is getting the full tween makeover. According to the Mattel press release:

As tweenage Dora, our heroine has moved to the big city, attends middle school and has a whole new fashionable look.

Are you serious? One of the best role models on TV for young girls is heading down sassy Bratz route? A whole new “fashionable” look? Say it ain’t so!

The great thing about Dora is that she breaks so many stereotypes. She is a girl who goes on adventures in the wild, not in the mall. She has short hair, not long flowing locks. She wears shorts, not short skirts. She reads a map so we know she is into geography and science. All this is about to be reduced into yet another friggin trashy pop culture princess mess.

But you know what? It is going to backfire. We parents who love Dora love her for exactly those reasons. Dora IS the anti-Bratz and she will not survive this makeover. She can’t out-Bratz the Bratz. And parents will see through this crass attempt to cash in on trash. Dora is popular for precisely the opposite reasons that Mattel are trying to sell. And, as Packaging Girlhood points out,  we know who the real Dora is and will always be.

But we know the truth. If the original Dora grew up, she wouldn’t be a fashion icon or a shopaholic. She’d develop her map reading skills and imagine the places she could go. She’d capitalize on those problem solving skills to design new ways to bring fresh water to communities in need around the world. Maybe she’d become a world class runner or follow her love of animals and become a wildlife preservationist or biologist. We’ll never know because the only way a girl can grow up in tween town, is to narrow that symphony of choices to one note. It’s such a sell out of Dora, of all girls.

Voice your concern. Sign the online petition that has been started by the fine folks at Packaging Girlhood and send a message to Mattel that we don’t need Dora the Mall Explorer.

The problem I have with David After Dentist

If you are not familiar, the latest viral video making the rounds is David After Dentist. Briefly, Dad with video camera shoots video of son sitting in minivan stoned out of his gourd after a dentist appointment. At last count, it has over 5 million views.

Not to be the wet blanket at the party, but this does raise a troublesome point for me that I seem to be riffing on lately, which is the responsibility we, as parents, have in protecting our kids digital identity.

Set aside the issue of what will David think 20 years from now about this video – and, who knows, maybe this will go down as being one of the greatest things that happens in his life – but let’s take a look at how David is being exploited.

Right now, David’s video is being remixed, mashed and reconfigured by hundreds of people. The vast majority of them benign, respectful and doing it for the love of recontextualizing something old into something new. But there are a lot of people who are making money off David.

Already the remixes are showing up, and getting significant traffic. Many of these remixes have Google Ad overlays and embedded links to other sites as people try to cash in on David’s 15 minutes of fame. In some instances, the video has been downloaded and uploaded to another users account in hopes of driving traffic to that persons website or product. David has become a commercial, and right now there is a feeding frenzy at this Warholian trough.

I’m not casting any stones here at David’s parents. I’m pretty sure David’s Dad had no idea this thing would go viral when he posted it on YouTube. Instead, I think the people who are exploiting this kid to make money are the real problem here.

Not that this would fix it entirely, but one strategy that would help mitigate the risk of commercial exploitation of future David’s is to post your videos on a video sharing site that allows you to add some kind of copyright protection to the video. For example, blip.tv (and others) allow you to attach a Creative Commons license to your videos that would at least give parents some recourse for legal action. YouTube has no such copyright mechanism.

If you do want to use YouTube but want to reduce the risk of your video going wild, then check out the private sharing options that allow you to share your video privately with up to 25 people.

If you have been reading my posts lately it might seem that I am down on social networks. In fact, I am not. I think that as a society we are better off with social networks and the concept of being open and transparent. But when we use these tools with our kids, we have to temper our desire to share our kids most private and intimate moments with the responsibility we have to respect their privacy and, in this case, protect them from being commercially exploited.

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Stanford offers free Facebook course for Parents

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

Stanford University is offering a free class called Facebook for Parents. The course is being offered by Stanford psychologist Dr. BJ Fogg and his sister Linda Phillips.

It is not an online course, and right now the content on the website is a bit sparse (I suspect it will evolve and become much richer as the course progresses). And the 5 tips, while sound first steps, are basic. But they do give parents new to Facebook a starting point.

The 5 tips Fogg and Phillips put forth are:

  1. Join Facebook
  2. Friend your kids
  3. Review your kids’ profile page
  4. Review who is “Friends” with your kid
  5. Select “More About” your kid

I would think the earlier you can Friend your kids the better, simply because a younger child would probably be more likely to friend you back when they are younger than when they hit their teen years.

Social networks are here to stay and for some parents that is a pretty scary thought. After all, most of us didn’t grow up in this world with social network tools like IM, MySpace and Facebook. Figuring out how our kids use these tools to communicate with their peers can sometimes seem like a daunting task, but one that is neccesary for a couple of reasons.

First, we need to protect our kids. Despite the current perception, the biggest threat to our kids on social networks does not come from the anonymous, unknown predator lurking in the shadows but from their peers. In no way do I mean to downplay the seriousness of child predation, but when you take a long hard look at the facts, the vast majority of kids that run into problems with social networks do so with their peers, and not strangers. Just like in real life, we need to know who our kids friends are.

Second, understanding their tools of communication means we can use them to communicate with them. And I have never met a parent (especially once their kids get into their teen years) who wants to communicate less with their child.

Initiatives like this course at Stanford help us understand these tools and ultimately help us both  protect and communicate with our kids better.

Putting your kids life online – a cautionary tale

I struggle with how much information about my kids I should reveal on my blog. It is one thing for me to make the conscious and informed choice to share me online, quite another for me to make that choice on behalf of my kids.

Part of what holds me back is a respect for their privacy. From the get go, I decided not to use their names on the blog, instead referring to my daughter as “The Girl” and my son as “The Boy”. There has been the occasional lapse where their first names have slipped, but for the most part, as the About Me says, names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Sometimes I feel that this is a restriction that limits how truly personal I can get with the stories I share on this blog. But for the most part, it is their life and I have to respect that their future selves may not feel the need to be quite as transparent as I.

And then I read Alec’s story and it snaps me into another reality. One that I sometimes forget about as I get more comfortable putting myself out there/here. Sometimes the online world is just an icky place filled with icky people.

Alec is a smart man. A university professor who studies educational technology and social networking. He lives his life online; open, transparent and social. But last week an incident occurred that shook him. Innocent photos of his 4 year old daughter were favorited by someone on Flickr. When Alec followed the links back to see who this person was, what he found was disturbing.

What I saw was three pages of favorited photos of preteen girls, most shots in bathing suits or with little clothing. Had I viewed any of these photos individually, isolated from the others, I am sure that this same feeling of disgust would not have come over me. But these photos, viewed together, favorited by some anonymous user, told a very different story. These photos of these girls were without a doubt being sexualized, and my four-year-old daughter was amongst these images.

Alec’s story has got me thinking hard about what responsibilities we, as parents, have in protecting our children’s identity online.

A knee jerk reaction would be to stop posting anything about my kids. But that feels too extreme. Like Alec, I feel the vast majority of people are good and decent. I dislike living my life in fear and feel that our kids are in far more danger from the people they know than complete strangers on the internet. And besides, if you’re a Dad going through stuff like I am, it’s nice to be able to connect and share in ways our fathers couldn’t.

On the other hand,  I am a Dad who wants to protect my kids. I don’t want to be a Pollyanna and ignore the realities that there are nasty people out there. So I am still juggling to find that happy balance between sharing and protecting.

While I was writing this post, I was doing some research on protecting your kids online and came across Blogging smart: How to protect yourself and your family online from Seattle Mom Blogs – a good set of guidelines for parent bloggers. But it was the last guideline that stuck with me:

Don’t be scared… be smart. When I started blogging, and then started thinking about safety, the horror stories nearly scared me off blogging altogether. That’s certainly not my intent here. Blogging has a lot to offer. Just be sure that you’re informed about the risks so that you can make good decisions that you feel comfortable with. And then, blog away!

What about you? How much personal information do you share about your kids online and what are your internal guidelines for what you post about them? I’d love to hear your thoughts. In the meantime, I need to head over to Facebook and check my privacy settings.

Bratz Dolls May Give Girls Unrealistic Expectations

At some point, you have to be okay with your little head and be okay with having a nose. Once again, The Onion peels up a priceless slice of satire.

Just One More Book

Just One More Book is a fantastic podcast about kids books. Hosts Mark and Andrea have an absolute passion for kids books and they approach each book with great enthusiasm and knowledge.

Not only do Mark and Andrea review books, they also have listeners submit book reviews which adds a nice touch of community involvement to the podcast.

But book reviews are just the start. They are connected, and feature interviews with authors and the people passionate about writing. Henry Winkler (yes, that Henry Winkler), poet Jack Prelutsky, and Eleanor Wachtel, host of CBC’s Writers and Company are just a few of the guests they have interviewed. And it made my day to hear a review of Berkley Breathed’s Edwurd Fudwupper Fibbed Big. Oh, the fond memories I have of Bloom County.

They also take the show on the road, as they did earlier this year when they attended the 100th anniversary party of the release of Anne of Green Gables in Toronto where they had a chance to speak with former Canadian Governor General Adrienne Clarkson.

Most shows are bite sized 7-12 minutes and the production values are high, making for a very enjoyable 10 or so minutes. If you are looking for some good kid book talk, Just One More Book fits the bill nicely.

Could this be the beginning of the end to multiple hand lacerations on Christmas morning?

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos image via Wikipedia

Chances are, you have lived this scene, either post birthday party or Christmas morning.

New toys, unwrapped but still in their package, are strewn around the room. You sit down, scissors and a pair of pliers in hand, ready to do battle with the packaging and free the toys from their prison of rigid plastic and miles of twist tie wire. Your kids are doing the happy dance, watching you with glee and barely contained excitement, breathlessly waiting for the booty to spring forth. As you begin the task, your hand slips and catches on the hard plastic clamshell packaging. Off you go to stop the bleeding. Repeat many times, until you are red faced frustrated and require a blood transfusion while your kids are reduced to sobbing messes because they can’t play with their toys because some sadistic toy manufacturer has made it impossible to free the toys from their packaging!

It ain’t a pretty site.

Well, hope may be at hand, courtesy of Amazon.com, who have announced a new program called the Frustration-Free Packaging Initiative whose first two goals are to eliminate clamshell packaging and wire tie downs.

It certainly helps that Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com, is spearheading the companies drive. I haven’t looked closely at his hands, but, being that Jeff has 4 kids, I suspect they resemble my 9th grade shop teachers. Hence, the push.

Way to go, Jeff! On behalf of scarred parents everywhere, we applaud you!

Serves me right for not checking Junie B. Jones with Common Sense Media

I broke one of my Daddy guidelines with The Girl last night. Normally, I am hyper-vigilant about her media consumption and I try to filter as much of the content she sees and hears before it gets to her. I know we only have a few years where we are in control of the messages she gets, so I want to take advantage of it.

Last night, in a moment of what I can only describe as sheer technology enthusiasm, I let my filter down.

See, The Girl is a big fan of audio books. She uses them to help her get through the nap period at preschool. She hasn’t napped in over a year, but her preschool still has to have a mandatory period of quiet time each afternoon while the younger kids sleep. So to help her pass the time, I got her an MP3 player and have been loading it with audio books from her collection. Yesterday, I discovered I can download audio books from our local library.

Here’s where my geek enthusiasm took over. I was so excited to try out the process that I went straight to the kids books and searched for audio books for her. The only thing that looked vaguely age appropriate was an anthology called Junie B. Jones. My wife mentioned that the name was familiar, probably from the Scholastic book order forms that roll through pre-school every once in awhile. That was enough of a recommendation for me, and off I went and downloaded it, set it up on the mp3 player and handed it over to The Girl, who spent the next 2 hours mesmerized by the tales of Junie B. Jones.

It was only then that my own media filter twiged and I realized that I had no idea what my kid was listening to. So I went to my favorite source for all things kid media, Common Sense Media and read the reviews by both parents and the site editors.

If you are not familiar with Junie B. Jones, here are a few selected comments from the reviews.

Parents need to know that much of the humor comes from Junie’s bad behavior. Young readers are supposed to laugh at it, not emulate it.

I am left of the left when it comes to most anything in this world. And, I eagerly encourage my children to read and love books. HOWEVER, Junie B. Jones is the closest I’ve ever gotten to banning a book in our house. The grammar/language is just horrible and the stories of misbehavior are way too numerous and validates, for a preschooler,rude behavior.

Junie is a handful. If your child is ‘spirited,’ impressionable and/or highly dramatic and she reads this book, soon you will have a handful on your hands, too. I know several mothers who have banned these books from their house because their dramatic girls suddenly think it’s great to sock their little brothers and to back-talk like mad

Well, you can see why I was regretful for my lapse in judgment. I immediately listened to the audio book and realized I completely agreed with all the reviews. Junie B. Jones is terrible.

Needless to say, the digital Junie has been returned to the library. Nice thing about working with a 5 year old is that she stills believes me when I tell her the digital audio file needs to be returned to the library.

This highlights why I truly appreciate a site like Common Sense Media. Not that I neccesarily agree with every review they post, but their reviews combined with other parent reviews makes it a great starting point when it comes to evaluating age appropriate media.

The site has recently undergone a homepage makeover to make finding info even easier than before. If you need a good starting place when it comes to figuring out of something is appropriate for your kids to view, read, play or listen to, consider starting at Common Sense Media.

A Common Sense Approach to Internet Safety

As The Girl gets older and spends more time online, I have been thinking more and more about internet safety. Google and Common Sense Media have teamed up to create this video of common sense tips and rules for families to help keep kids safe online.

The nice thing I like about this video is that the advice is more about teaching appropriate use, rather than trying to shield your kids from the big bad world.

According to Common Sense, the four basic rules parents should follow are:

  1. Set rules
  2. Teach Internet safety
  3. Teach kids to communicate safely
  4. View all content critically

Cyberbullying, using social network privacy controls, media literacy and setting basic rules are all covered in this 7 minute video. A bit Google heavy (hey, look Picasa, Google Chat and Blogger all have safety features), but still an informative primer for families who have kids that are starting to explore the online world.

A Dad’s Dilemma: Dove and the Campaign for Real Beauty

I am torn. As the dad of a daughter, I know that she is going to be targeted by the beauty industry with GPS guided missile precision. They are going to do everything in their power to make her feel fat/ugly/outcast, and that their products are the answer to make her feel thin/beautiful/accepted.

What tears at me today is Dove and their Campaign for Real Beauty, a marketing campaign they have been running for the past few years. They have made this really fantastic video about the beauty industry – not their first, and, judging by the profits they are making since launching the campaign (sales up by 11.4% in the first quarter of 2005, just after the campaign launched), not their last.

The thing is – they ARE the beauty industry. And as much as I admire this video and the messages around it, I can’t help but feel that the message is absolutely tainted by the fact that it was funded by the very industry that it skewers.

Yet, it still remains a powerful video. It speaks to the issues that I, as a father, want to speak about with my daughter.

But in the back of my mind remains the niggling fact that the people who made this video are, ultimately, trying to sell their products in the worst way possible – by first convincing my daughter that she is worthless without them.

dove onslaught