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Businesses sexing up teens a la Miley Cyrus

Lots of people seem to be in an uproar over the sorta topless images of Miley Cyrus in Vanity Fair Magazine that hit newstands this week. I keep hearing all this talk about how outrageous it is to force kids to grow up too fast or to sex up their image too soon.

Geez. Couldn't we have said this about Britney Spears? Or Jodi Foster? Or Brooke Shields?

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I'm all for kids staying kids as long as possible (I still worry about my 18-year-old niece crossing the street by herself even though I know she's heading off to college soon), but if we're going to start pointing fingers, maybe we need to take a good hard look at all that's being marketed to our kids and what we seem to be lapping up as consumers.

That photo on the right is from Loews Hotels in an ill-timed press release sent out Monday (thanks to HotelChatter for alerting everyone to it) to lure teens and tweens to "spa" at the chain. Nothing wrong with that, as HotelChatter points out, but get a load of the adult-like offerings:

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A mocktail? Is that really necessary? Do parents really want to associate drinking with fun for kids since I'm sure they'll discover that all on their own when they get to high school? $160? I can't remember when I spent that much on myself and I work for a living.

Emily Goldfischer, Vice President of Loews Hotels and mother of two, said in the release, "More than ever, pre-teens and teens are adopting the more grown-up fashions and attitudes of their 20-something counterparts. Because moms don't want to see their little girls grow up too fast, this collection seeks to establish a nice balance, offering fun, kid-friendly spa treatments that retain a 'let's play dress-up' quality."

ooph. I hear what she's saying. I can almost see the "play dress up" part. But I can't help but feel like there's something off about it. When you add mocktails and massages into the formula, it makes me think it's not really something a kid really needs. What happened to tea parties at home and Big Wheels?

Marketing to kids is a huge business. According to the Tourism Intelligence Network in Quebec, spending by tweens has doubled every decade for the past 30 years. In the U.S., tweens control or influence about $260 billion in spending. According to a BRANDchild study, tweens influence 80% of their parents' brand purchases.

And what do these kids want? Take a look at what's selling? Racy clothing in the malls. Sexy dolls (Bratz, anyone?). Video games with adult themes like violence. When it comes to music, let's take another look at all those Mouseketeers bringing sexy back. TV? Popular teen shows like The OC and Gossip Girl routinely showcase partying, drinking and sex.

So to bring this back full circle, this whole shock and dismay over Miley Cyrus isn't new. Our teens and pre-teens are bombarded every day. Whether it's little Hannah Montana now or Britney Spears then, everyone will get outraged and then we'll move on. And then something else will happen and we'll get outraged all over again even while we continue to send the message to businesses (and buy the message) that sex sells.

(photo from Loews Hotels) 

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