New Voice of the Young
Every once in a while, a brave mother will venture into her daughter's bedroom to give it a good, old-fashioned cleaning. A mound of clothes lies in one corner waiting to be thrown into the laundry hamper. (A cleaned-up room always yields at least three extra loads of laundry!) On the window sill stands a wilting bouquet of flowers, mute testimony to a young man's undying love. Shapely bottles of skin cleansers, capless tubes of blemish cover-up and fruit-scented bars of soap, the latest offerings from The Body Shop, compete for space on a crowded dresser. Mascara, blush, lipstick, and eyeliner pencils spill out of a small wicker basket. Doc Martens stand exactly where they were stepped out of, toes pointing haphazardly. From under the bed skirt, a precariously stacked pile of texts, notebooks, and magazines spills onto the carpet. The mother sifts through the pile: In Holy Array, Socials 11 notebook, a doodle-covered catechism work book, last weekend's coloured comics and various teen magazines: 'TEEN, Seventeen, YM: young and modern, FLARE. With a sigh, the mother sinks slowly to the bed and begins riffling through the pages. What was her daughter reading now?
A magazine for every taste
Parents are sometimes taken aback by the things that hold their children's interest. Teachers, no less so. Periodic locker checks are revealing. What kinds of pictures decorate the insides of the locker doors? And what kinds of magazines come tumbling out, along with leftover lunches, smelly socks and mouldy orange peels? The local supermarkets and drugstores offer a wide selection. One well-supplied rack in the local super drugstore offers approximately 200 different titles. Every sport imaginable is represented. Car buffs could go broke on the selection available to them. There is a magazine for every taste. About a dozen of the magazines are directed specifically at teens.
A cursory overview confirms that these magazines cater to the taste of teenage girls. Few young men would find their contents more than mildly interesting. The major focus of each magazine is undoubtedly to make the reader attractive to guys. Relationships with guys form the main emphasis of most of the articles. Typically, one-third of the pages are devoted to advertising. Different types of make-up, the all-important blemish treatments, perfumes, deodorants, feminine hygiene products, shampoos, conditioners, mousses and of course the latest styles in jeans and other fashion items are each worthy of a full- page, glossy colour ad.
All of this advertising suggests a number of things. Looking good is essential. Having a boyfriend should be the ultimate goal of each teenage girl. Spending money – lots of it – on yourself is a normal thing for teenage girls to do. The advertising encourages the teens to be self-indulgent, self-centered, and superficial. Near the back of some of the magazines, a section of black and white pages advertises various modelling schools. Only two ads encourage the reader to look beyond herself. Noxzema is offering a $10,000 donation toward a worthy cause, as a contest prize for a teen-initiated project that “will make the world a better place.” One other full-page black and white ad urges the reader to sponsor a child in a Third World country. For the rest it's “Maybe she's born with it. Maybe it's Maybelline.” “Strong enough for a man. But made pH balanced for you, to work with your unique chemistry.”
These teen magazines vary in quality. Some are truly full of worthless and frivolous articles. Others attempt to address some serious teenage issues. 'TEEN falls into the first category. The reader can write to Jack and Juli for advice on questions about love and life, and “dear beauty editor” for the latest word on painting toe-nails or removing unwanted hair from between the eyebrows. Seven pages are devoted to finding the perfect pen pal, based on compatible zodiac signs. “Guy likes, guy gripes” along with a quiz to determine “what's your guy style” fill another five pages; fourteen pages present the latest fashions in clothes and make-up. Is there anything of value in this magazine? In a word, “No.” Even the medical column, responding to a girl's concern about a first visit to a gynaecologist, presumes that sexual activity is normal for all teens.
A similar format
Ym: young and modern follows a pattern similar to that of 'TEEN. The Spring, 1994 issue, devotes 100 pages “to find the real you!” One hundred pages to help you discover yourself; 20 quizzes to test the reader on her loves, looks and friendships; and horoscopes to find the perfect love match. What type of guy finds you attractive, and why? Which superstar couples are hot (or not)? Dream analysis, handwriting analysis… the list goes on. Although some attempt is made to warn against having a boyfriend for the wrong reasons – as an ego booster or status symbol – the overall tone of the magazine declares that “you're a failure unless you have a gorgeous hunk hanging on your arm.”
One ym quiz that is perhaps worthy of a second look is entitled “What's your friendship style?” The reader can determine her own style by the way in which she answers 30 questions. There are six categories: one bud's for you – one good friend is all she needs; the clique chick – she loves to hang around with a select group; one of the guys – she prefers the company of guys; the loner, she's pretty self-sufficient; the fan – she's content to play second fiddle to a stronger personality; the floater – she tends to have a large group of acquaintances, but no close friendships. The writer suggests that each type has both positive and negative aspects, and makes further suggestions about broadening interests and about the value of truly supportive, like-minded friends. Not a particularly profound article, but it does provide some food for thought. Yes, friends are important, but guys are it! Just as the full page ad for ym suggests, “If you like to find out about yourself and guys and fashion and guys and relationships and guys and beauty and… subscribe now. ym it's you!”
Seventeen follows a format similar to that of YM: young and modern and 'TEEN, except that it has somewhat longer articles and is less intensely guy-focused. Luke Perry, the star of Beverly Hills, 90210 graces the front cover, but warrants only a one-column story on page 62. No doubt his presence on the front cover helps increase sales.
FLARE, which presents itself as Canada's fashion magazine, certainly lives up to its name. From cover to cover it includes little else besides fashion. Yes, it provides the politically correct nod to proper nutrition, but on the opposite page reclines a woman, seductively clad in nothing but a scanty red body suit. She makes it somewhat difficult to concentrate on the nutrition article. The women and girls in the fashion ads are so thin it's unlikely that they follow the advice of that article. A recent issue of FLARE includes two particularly offensive articles, “Women and Aids: what you need to know now” and “Sex and the Single Guy.” It seems that nothing is taboo. Do whatever you want, with whomever you want, wherever you want, but just be careful. That is the message.
New voice of the young
Are all teen magazines awful? There are two which might be worth keeping an eye on. January 1994 saw the premiere of Ingénue: Canada's new voice of young. It also emphasizes fashion and beauty, but there are some more substantial items: a discussion of teen depression, an interview with a young Canadian gymnast and a gently humorous article about what to do when your parents don't like your boyfriend. The format is reminiscent of a Canadian Living magazine directed to the young.
The second one, TG Magazine: Voices of Today's Generation consists mostly of articles, essays and poetry submitted by secondary students from all across Canada. It is bilingual, but the main articles are in both English and French. There are few ads. Many of the articles describe activities in which young people across Canada are involved. Worthwhile accomplishments, not good looks, are recognized and applauded.
True enough, neither of these magazines provides a Christian perspective. Their advice columns also subscribe to worldly standards; yet, on the whole, these two magazines project a certain wholesomeness which is lacking in 'TEEN, FLARE, YM: young and modern, and Seventeen.
Preying on teen insecurities
What is so appealing about these teen magazines? They are attractively laid out. Undoubtedly a lot of marketing research preceded their publication. No one will argue that teenagers are not preoccupied with their looks and with the opposite sex. The teenage years are a time of romantic dreams. Are those not natural inclinations? These years are also a time of insecurity. Interests and friendships change. Emotions soar and plummet, sometimes within a ten-minute time span. A zit on the nose takes on enormous significance when it makes its appearance the day before an important date. Teens are expected to plan for the future and know what courses to take next year, when they really can't think – or prefer not to think – past next week or next month. The future seems so remote. It's easier to think about here and now. And clearly these magazines are catering to that inclination.
Yet teen magazines do not present a realistic picture. In a sense they prey on teens' insecurities by assuring them that a particular product is essential for their success and acceptance with their peers. A young woman might easily delude herself into thinking that she is not worthwhile unless she has a handsome young man at her beck and call. The cosmetic and fashion advertisers prey on these insecurities, urging the spending of money most teens can ill afford. (Does shop-lifting then become an option?) Even if they can afford to buy these items, it is still a self-centered, self-indulgent use of God-given wealth. These magazines promote this attitude.
Learn to discern
So should Mom hit the roof when her daughter comes home from school? Should she throw the magazines out, and ground her daughter for two weeks for having such “trash” in her bedroom? Probably a better approach would be for Mom and daughter to sit on the bed and have an honest look at these magazines together. Let the daughter tell the mother what is in the magazines. Point out some of things she may have missed. If we give our teenagers the freedom and opportunity to make their own judgments, they often surprise us with their perceptiveness. They know what is right. Is that not the goal of educating our children, both at home and in the Christian schools?
As parents we do not want to make all their decisions for them. We cannot. We want them to learn to discern. We need to give them the tools: a strong biblical foundation, a thorough knowledge of the reformed confessions, practice in thinking critically, and a good role model. They need to apply what they learn to their daily lives. If they learn to discern, our daughters and sons will think twice before purchasing such magazines again. Perhaps one of the articles can become the starting point for a truly worthwhile discussion. Don't slam the door of communication shut by hitting the roof, thereby encouraging an equally emotional response. Help teenagers to analyze the spirits of our time. Above all, pray together for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.