In a recent Tyra Banks Show, parents were shocked at the sexual activity of their teenage children. These kids were going to 'flyer parties', for example. These were parties whose locations were printed on flyers passed out at malls. At one event there were rows of mattresses where party goers engaged publicly and openly in a variety of sexual activities with other young people they had just met. But the bad news did not end there. A number of these teens had experienced oral sex, many before the age of 16. Off stage at the Tyra Banks Show, mothers listened to their sons and daughters reveal what they were doing. The mothers were aghast.
To her credit, Tyra Banks pointed out that the media was sending powerful messages to these young people.
Advertisers and marketers have always used sex to sell their products. And they will do it as explicitly as the current morals will allow. While it might be okay to market this way to adults, to approach children in this manner is inexcusable.
Now don't get me wrong. I am not a prude. Yet most adults will agree that young teenagers are not ready to handle the emotions of sex or the possible consequences such as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and pregnancy. Further I believe many of these kids will be severely damaged by becoming involved in sex too early in their lives.
Young people have a strong sexual drive which is normal and healthy. However, they look to parents, the media and each other for guidance. While most parents want to put on the brakes, the media has essentially given young people permission to be sexually active and promiscuous. In our advertising friendly society we have allowed marketers to come between us and our children in this important matter.
For example, I believe the same parents on the Tyra Banks Show would be shocked to open a magazine aimed at teenagers, if the parents understood the true meaning of some of the ads.
In the September 2005 edition of a mainstream magazine aimed at young teenage girls, I found the following ad: A clothing advertisement showed two happy excited guys and one provocative girl leaning against an expensive car. The caption of the ad asked "Are you a player?" Now that sounds innocent enough, except that being a player in street language means having lots of sexual partners. According to the Urban Dictionary 'player' means, "A male who is skilled at manipulating ("playing") others, and especially at seducing women by pretending to care about them, when in reality they are only interested in sex." Another definition of 'player' from Wikipedia is, "Someone who cheats on his girlfriend or wife (or if a woman: boyfriend, husband)."
Another ad in the same issue showed a girl in a very short skirt on the lap of a boy whose hands were on her buttocks and her naked thigh. And a two page spread showed an enticing woman lying on her back in her jeans on a shag rug with her legs spread wide. The women in all these ads sent a message that they were sexually available -- ready, willing and able. And generally the models were older than the target audience of the magazine. This gave the impression to the young readers that they should grow up and be sophisticated like these advertising models.
So these are the kinds of messages young teens are seeing. Advertisers know that most adults won't interfere because they don't look at magazines or tv shows or movies or music targeted to the young. And even if they did, most adults would miss the messages which are carefully crafted so that younger people will understand the hidden ideas but older people won't.
Young people are trusting, open and vulnerable. If the society does not object, these ads will form a significant part of their value system.
We live in an advertising friendly culture where just about anything goes. Are we going to allow the forces of advertising to continue in this manner? Or are we going to set limits?