Teen Magazines
Will They Harm Her?


Menstuff® has compiled information regarding the issue of the value/danger of teen magazines. Should you worry if your dauther avidly reads teen magazines? Should you worry if your significant other avidly reads shelter books (like Cosmo, Allure, Vogue, Ladies Home Journal?) We've long questioned their social value. Here, Dawn Currie looks that the issue in Daughters magazine. Updated 12/16/01.

If your daughter is typical, she'll be drawn to teen magazines. Their allure begins at about age 10 and can last until 16. During these years, she may feel passionately about traditional titles like Seventeen and newer reads like CosmoGirl. Whether or not you like these magazines, they're an unavoidable part of the adolescent landscape. And researchers have found that girls don't have to buy teen magazines to read them - they're everywhere. As parents, we must decide how to respond. Should you worry if your dauther avidly reads teen magazines?

Treating Girls Like Women

If you read Seventeen when you were young, you're in for a surprise. The editors of many teen magazines now treat adolescent girls like adults. Annemarie Iverson, YM's editor, is typical. She holds a cookie klatch with teens every Friday, and recently told the New York Times, "Their lives parallel mine. They are so stressed out."  Meanwhile, CosmoGirl's editor wants her magazine to tell girls "everything we finally learned at 25 that we wished we'd known when we were 15." Even the new magazine Mary-Kate and Ashley, written for girls 10 and older, aims to "treat girls like smart wsomen," according to senior editor Erin Brereton.

These editors argue that girl readers face grown-up problems, and therefore need the information they offer. Indeed, it's trye that our daughters must make decisions about sexual activity, drug use, and drinking several years before we did. Teen magazines alone don't create that reality, but they do offer girls standards and expectations - ways of deciding what's normal.

Constructing "Normal"

Many of us assume that photos of super-thin models are the most damaging part of teen magazines. But that may not be true. When I studied magazine readers, I found that girls generally recognized fashion and beauty ads as fantasy. Stories and advice columns, however, seemed real to them. They constructed ideas about what was normal - and therefore desirable - based on what they read. They wanted to fit in, and believed the magazines would tell them how.

Unfortunately, analyzing teen magazines' content reveals that "normal" means looking good, having a boyfriend, consuming goods, and being popular. The diverse identities and concerns of real girls are scarely addressed, and messages like "be yourself" and "do what's good for you" are overwhelmed by basic beauty-and-boyfriend assumptions.

Her Whole Self

Narrow content. It's normal for adolescent girls to want to fit in with their peers. WIth that in mind, try not to prohibit or attack teen magazines. Instead, discuss with your girl the limitations of their content, which is not nearly rich enough to reflect her life, interests, and potential.

Different girls. Research shows that girls who already have a poor self-image are more vulnerable to teen magazines. If this describes your daughter, talk with her directly about the underlyuing messages in these magazines. And if she's reading Seventeen or Cosmo Girl at 13, ask her to substitute one of the magazines listed below.

Competence over appearance. A resilient girl feels competent. Help your daughter find things she does well, especially acitvities that lie outside traditional definitions of femininity. Promote rock-climbing, acting, or computer skills. Acitivites like these give girls a deep and abiding sense of self.

Real Girls, Good Reads

Check out these alternatives to traditional teen reads:

American Girl celebrates girlhood and total self, ages 8-12. www.americangirl.com

New Moon girl-edited, strong on the total girl, ages 8-14 www.newmoon.org

Dream/Girl girls interested in self-expression and the arts, ages 9-14. www.dgarts.com

Teen Voices girl-written, ages 14-22, www.teenvoices.com

Source: Daughters, 11-12/01 Dawn Currie, Ph.D, is the author of Girl Talk: Adolescent Magazines and Their Readers. Dhcurrie@aol.com Reprinted with permission, from Daughters magazine; Copyright Dads & Daughters. www.daughters.com

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