(By which I mean “clothing that is skanky and that is made for children”, and not “clothing for skanky children”.)
In recent years the debate about inappropriate clothing for children has bubbled up every now and then in the UK. This latest contribution warns that the idea of legislating on what is and isn’t ‘appropriate’ is probably not going to work. And that’s a fairly sound attitude, I think: a skirt which is perfectly fine on a six year old of average height could be indecent on a particularly tall kid, after all. Of course, the idea that any children’s clothing should be emblazoned with the Playboy bunny symbol or slogans like ‘MILF in training’ is just idiotic, but as Justine Roberts (the co-founder of Mumsnet) points out in the article:
“The best way is to challenge retailers to think about it a bit more, and parents too because obviously someone’s buying this stuff.
“A far better way is to raise the debate and let the consumers do the ‘nudge’, which is saying we challenge you to behave properly in this regard.”
I totally agree with her first comment: parents need to take responsibility for this issue, rather than bleating on about how inappropriate everything is. If they don’t want their daughters wearing skanky clothes, the obvious answer is to refuse to buy the skanky clothes for their daughters. Retailers only sell products when there is a market for them.
And the retailers who think that it’s acceptable to sell padded bras for 10 year olds and sell ‘toy’ pole-dancing kits should be mocked and avoided by any right-thinking adult, and their corporate social responsibility strategies should be pulled apart with the precision of a food critic looking for a stray fish bone in a good restaurant. I’m looking at you here, Tesco and Asda. And I think I’ve made my hatred of Primark known before, so just count this as yet another nail in their coffin, as far as I’m concerned.
I also agree with Roberts’s point that, by raising the issue, consumers might be encouraged to provide the ‘nudge’ to stupid retailers. However, Roberts and I part ways later on:
But she added: “I think in commercialisation and advertising, that is the place where Government can make a difference if they’re brave. I don’t see why children need to be advertised to when it’s not their money, what you’re doing is encouraging them to pester their poor parents.”
This point is also made on the Mumsnet website, in the Let Girls Be Girls campaign section:
What about parental responsibility?
Of course we’re not suggesting that retailers should shoulder all the responsibility for turning back the tide. We understand that parents always have the option of not buying products which sexualise children, and that a small minority of parents might actively wish to dress their eight-year-olds like mini-adults, teetering in heels and a provocatively-sloganed top.
But we believe few parents make an active choice to do so – we know from experience that most parents are low on energy, and struggle to resist ‘pester power’ at the best of times. Holding the line against a furious nine-year-old who wants a padded bra ‘like everyone else’ can sometimes seem like a battle not worth fighting, and the more widely available these products are, the more acceptable – even inevitable- they are perceived to be.
Surely the answer is for parents to GROW A PAIR and learn to say no to their children in such a way that their kids are left under no illusion about the futility of continuing to nag for whatever random thing the child wants the parent to buy? Children have ALWAYS been a prime marketing target. I grew up in the 1980s, the era of every stupid toy and fashion trend under the sun, and yet my parents resisted the urge to buy me Cabbage Patch Dolls, My Little Ponies, a coven of Barbies, ra-ra skirts… I could go all day, listing the things that I tried (and failed) to nag my mother to buy.
My mother, in news that may shock some modern parents, mastered the art of saying, ‘No, that’s stupid and ugly and you’ll hate it in five minutes; go outside and play and stop annoying me’ when my sisters and I were reasonably young. And – astoundingly – we have grown up to be emotionally unscarred by this seemingly heartless lack of material goods.
Some things that parents could also try:
- Restricting the time that their children spend watching TV or playing online, if that’s when they’re exposed to the influence of advertising.
- Responding to the cries that every other kid has a certain item of clothing by pointing out that all adults don’t dress alike, and nor should all children. If this doesn’t work, try the ‘go outside and play and stop being annoying’ approach.
- Telling kids who want a dozen different toys for Christmas that they must choose the one that they want the most and tell Father Christmas – you never know, they might get it (this could also be helpful with regard to the whole ‘mental families ending up in ridiculous debt because of over-spending at Christmas’ thing that seems to be unavoidable for so many people).
- Not taking their children to the supermarket or shopping centres. Two-parent families can leave one parent at home. I appreciate that it’s harder for single parent families, but I can’t tell you how often I see entire families – Mum, Dad, three kids – at Sainsbury’s. What is WRONG with these people? A supermarket trip isn’t a social outing. It’s a means to an end.
- Making kids realise that playing up in public is Not An Option. It will be punished with restricted TV, restricted toys, or – if you’re kicking it old school – a swift whack on the backside. Again, it will shock modern parents to learn that any of these disciplinary options can actually help children to understand that there are consequences to bad behaviour and that, despite what your seven year old may scream at you, they won’t really hate you forever.
Basically, kids will always be kids: they will nag and whinge for stuff that they want. I bet that, even before TV and the evils of modern marketing, kids were nagging their parents because little Johnny down the road had a shinier hoe or whatever. The ‘poor parents’ need to harden up and stop expecting the Government to do their job for them.
And while I admire the spirit behind the Let Girls Be Girls campaign, I question the value of it. Check out the retailers that back it:
WHO’S BACKING ‘LET GIRLS BE GIRLS’ – AND WHO ISN’T:
Yes: Bhs, Sainsburys, Great Little Trading Co., Tesco, Next, No Added Sugar, Bread and Jam, Zara, Boots, Clarks, Debenhams, John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Fat Face, George at Asda, Boden, House of Fraser, TK Maxx, Mothercare, Pumpkin Patch, Start-rite, Hush Puppies, YellowLolly.com, Sweetling Bras.
No, or No Response: H&M, Gap, WH Smith, Barratts, Claire’s Accessories, Deichmann, Ethel Austin, Mackays, Monsoon, Littlewoods, Matalan, New Look, Primark, River Island, Selfridges.
See any familar names there? What a farce. Like I said, the corporate social responsibility people at some of these organisations should take a long, hard look at themselves. They bring my profession into disrepute.