Challenge of buying for kids

Published: Thursday, December 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 30, 2005 at 2:34 p.m.
Shopping for kids seems to be getting harder every year. I hear from parents across the country who are shocked every time they shop - not just by the prices, but by the toys and other desirables on children's wish lists.
Do we really want our 4-year-old princesses dressing dolls that look like street-walkers? Do we want our teenage daughters to dress that way? Do we want our adolescent sons spending hours playing video games that make a sport of killing policemen and prostitutes? What does it say about our country that some of the most popular products are so offensive? And, what can we do about it?
At a local mall, mothers have been protesting a local Victoria's Secret for a store window displaying mannequins in sexually explicit S&M poses. The mannequins model the kinds of microscopic underwear that used to be reserved for strippers, but are now on the wish lists of young teenagers. The mall management responded by accusing the politely protesting moms of violating the mall code of conduct!
Mall stores across the country are carrying many of the most offensive video games that money can buy. The all-time biggest seller ''Grand Theft Auto'' - now in its third version - finally graduated to an ''adults only'' rating, which means the game ''should only be played by persons 18 years and older'' and ''may include prolonged scenes of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity.'' Several major chain stores will not carry ''adults only'' games, fortunately. Unfortunately, they all carry video games labeled Mature, often geared to pre-teens and young teens, even though they are ''suitable for persons ages 17 and older'' and contain ''intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content, and/or strong language.'' Believe me, they look more like X. Parents hope that these ratings don't matter, since it is ''only a game'' and since kids see so much sex and violence on TV, movies and the Internet. They do matter. Research shows that playing a game that rewards violent and offensive behaviors is even more likely to influence what kids think and do than passively watching it.f-z Perhaps you're now thanking your lucky stars that you can shop for dolls instead. But, millions of Bratz dolls have been sold for pre-school and elementary school girls, dressed like what used to be called ''tarts.'' Now it's called ''attitude.'' These dolls have pre-adolescent figures and are sexy in a pedophilia kind of way. Is this the ideal you want for your darling 7-year old? A Bratz TV show helps sell the dolls and electronic Bratz gifts - including telephones and TVs for your child's room.
For parents and grandparents who care about their children, a TV or computer in the room may seem a very reasonable choice. Unfortunately, kids with TVs in their room watch more TV, watch more TV that their parents would consider objectionable, read less and sleep less. And, kids who watch more TV tend to be more violent, are more likely to be overweight, and tend to do less well in school.
Computers in a child's bedroom are a mixed blessing. Computers are great for schoolwork, but when they are in the bedroom, children are more likely to view pornography or be ''educated'' in chat rooms in ways you never dreamed of.
What can we do? If we keep buying sexualized dolls and violent video games, companies will keep promoting more of the same. One solution is to talk to family members who buy gifts for our children, letting them know, for example, what a Mature or Adults Only rating means on a video game. We can also talk to the parents of our children's friends, to cooperatively establish standards that parents can agree on and avoid the ''all my friends have it'' line that is otherwise so effective. And, we can all check Web sites such as and to avoid the worst offenders.
Happy Holidays? We will be happier if we make sure the things we buy our kids won't harm them. And we can ask mall managers for help, starting with a real code of conduct for what is sold in their stores.
Diana Zuckerman is president of the National Research Center for Women & Families.

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