Preteen Podcasts: Media, Middle-school & Growing Up Too Fast

earpiece.jpgThe past few weeks Shaping Youth has recorded some preteen podcasts to hear what kids from public and private schools have to say about body image, celebrity hype, products, brands, teen media and how it all relates to the middle school experience.

Yowza. It may not quite be Fast Times at Ridgemont High out there but I’m feeling quite Jurassic about the ‘wannabe world,’ even though I’m pretty up to speed on all this media stuff.

We’ll be posting our podcasts to our blog within the next month, but meanwhile, parents of preteens may want to tune in to Childhood Matters on 98.1 KISS-fm to air their concerns, or catch it on their archived podcasts.

December 17th’s topic? “When to Worry About Your Preteen.”

Shaping Youth Media Advisor Rona Renner, R.N. is the host of this informative, weekly call-in radio show, and this Sunday her guests are Lisa Hardy, MD, Chief of Adolescent Psychiatry at Children’s Hospital and Research Center Oakland, and Stephanie Sheridan, EdD, NCSP, School Psychologist with the Palo Alto Unified School District.

Rona is not only an excellent interviewer, she’s a registered nurse, so you can bet she’ll have some powerful questions pertaining to preteen emotional health!

Rona will cover topics like:

What’s ‘normal’ for mood swings in pre-adolescence? When do troubles in school or conflicts with friends become a bigger issue than usual angst? When should parents be concerned and seek outside help?

Shaping Youth preteen podcasts focus on some of these topics from the children’s perspective bringing youth voices onto the platform.

We choose a general focus, like “body image” then open the mike to hear “tween talk” about what’s on kids’ minds. (Boys AND girls…)

It’s enlightening to hear where some of the angst is coming from, and how media and marketing fold into the mix.

Sometimes we glean tidbits on what hurts and what helps, but mostly we just try to capture what it’s like growing up these days in media-heavy environs.

We listen to preteen comments and try to trace where some of the behavioral cues are taking place. Sometimes we ask kids about tween influences pointblank; other times they’re completely unaware of the media tags and branding tumbling out of their mouths.

At the root of all, we’re trying to put the acceleration of childhood into this context:

How can we counter-market with critical thinking so that media doesn’t define kids before they’re even able to define themselves? That’s what Shaping Youth is all about.

We try to read between the lines of what kids are saying; see the roots, stems and pollination of ideas that can hinder healthy growth.

How is appearance-drenched culture bombarding kids with “shoulds”…How are purchases altering relational power…How do kids trade upon ‘coolness currency’ gleaned from media cues?

Twas ever thus…but now it’s 24/7 saturation, with some pretty subversive psychological tactics on the side of Madison Avenue mining kids’ insecurities for profit, with consumerism, race, and “age compression marketing” taking on a socioeconomic twist.

Consider the tween Hispanic/Latino market is growing at six times the rate of the overall market in fast food and shopping mall purchases. Look at the alarming childhood obesity rates for people of color, the stigmas, medical impact and health costs for us all.

C’mon people, there are causal links that can’t be ignored here.

Where are the ethics?

Parenting has become a chess game to keep up with the maneuvers of profiteers.

Counter-marketing the Britney-ization of fashionable behavior cues, keeping up with the packaging of ‘girlhood’, the mega-marketing of tween boys and dialing down the ‘media musts’ for both genders, parents are challenged to find a gazillion new ways to ‘just say no’ every nanosecond.

And if we don’t? Well, it’s all our fault, naturally…

Biggest shocker for ME in the last round of podcast interviews?

Tweens talking about “going out.”

Not the ‘awwww cute’ puppy love, ‘who likes who’ crush kind, nor the group dynamic where a pack hits a movie…but more like the AP National News story, “10 is the new 15.”

Clearly, there’s been a societal escalation of what is deemed ‘age appropriate.’

I tell ya, it was hard to keep a neutral ‘tell me more’ face in Barbara Walters-style when I wanted to leap in and ask pointblank,

“Ok, you gottafreakingbekidding me, WHO the heck is allowing ten and eleven year-olds to date? Name ONE child or parent this applies to so I know this isn’t just collective media buzz!”

Instead, I swallowed hard and gave my “hmn, gee, interesting” nod.

Families get wedged against pop culture cues in a combative battle for the hearts and minds of these preteens. Media sends the message to rev their engines, ditch the learner’s permit and go straight for the sports car.

Tweens spend $50 billion a year annually, visiting the mall 40% more than other targets so it’s easy to see how marketers sniff out an “opportunity” creating a ‘chicken or the egg’ scenario with parents trying to figure out how kids are growing up too soon.

No matter where we interview, we’re finding kids are growing out of their skin before they even have time to get in it. Urban. Rural. Midwest. It’s the homogenization of America, with 24/7 media access.

We all know kids will want to rewind this film of life soon enough…it shouldn’t have to be like a fast-forward button on the VCR where parents keep grabbing the remote to push PAUSE.

Parents have to suit up with full metal jacket armor to shield a solid boundary between big guns of media and marketing that have kids in the crosshairs of their scope.

When interviewed separately, it seems most of these preteens WANT to stay in childhood longer, if we’d just let them. So why can’t we just leave them alone?

In a word? Profit.

New statistics and studies are surfacing and now government bills are being funded to assess the gravity of media and marketing’s impact on kids’ physical and emotional development.

Seems like a very hopeful “shout out” that it’s time to pay attention.

When I attended the CCFC conference this fall, child-marketing foe Dr. Susan Linn of Harvard was blind-sided by being awarded the prestigious Presidential Citation from the American Psychological Association.

I took this as a strong sign that the nation’s top professional organization was publicly recognizing there’s a problem here.

As he walked up to the platform and asked a stunned Dr. Linn to join him, he said:

“Dr. Linn, you have focused sharp attention on the rights of children to grow up, and the rights of parents to raise them, without undermining by rampant consumer manipulation. The American Psychological Association takes pride in acknowledging and applauding both your current efforts and your sustained career contribution focused on the public interests of our must vulnerable citizens.”

Susan deserved every ounce of that standing ovation.

Our podcasting and film work echo her outcomes like a canary in a coal mine…

The price we pay to sell off childhood will ultimately cost us all.



  1. Everyone talks about mood swings in teenagers, but for many that continues throughout life, certainly has for me! At 30, i am starting to feel a little disconnected from teenagers having been relatively uptodate with music and language before now. I think we all get to an age where attempting to “get down with the kids” just gets embarassing, and i think teenagers now prefer to be treated like young adults, whether that is warranted or not.
    .-= Tom Gurney´s last blog ..Hundertwasser Art – Hundertwasser Paintings, Prints & Posters =-.

  2. Well, I could say “true dat” (as teenagers in our advisory crew might joke (j/k) but I have to add that I’m even more intrigued with you being just turning 30 and feeling that way! I dare say that as life cycles through the ages, and you start having kids, there’s a resurgence of ‘getting it’ that puts you back in touch with the next generation…I think as long as I stay tapped into the youth media conduit, I’ll probably learn more daily (even though some may make me ‘moody’ and even forlorn, other news makes me rejoice and inspired!)

    Now, my next question is…Are you really named Tom Gurney? And if so, where are you from? Believe it or not, that was my all time first BF’s name in (drum roll please) 6th grade, way back when! 🙂 You’re not the right age, and we’re still in touch, but it amused me when I saw your name so I just had to respond with a query!

    At first the paranoia hit in as I’ve been working on privacy posts on data mining, and thought, “wow, I’ve got a heckuva GPS/SEO data tracker on my tail gleaning info to dupe me into reading items marked from names in my address book” and then I thought, “hmn…pretty common name, let’s find out where he’s from!”

    Do tell! 🙂
    .-= Amy Jussel´s last blog ..Childhood Matters Radio Show: Raising Strong, Healthy Girls Today =-.

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