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Reflections From An Online Dad

My Daughter Kissed An iPod

by John Geoghegan

My daughter received an iPod for her 8th birthday.

It wasn't from her parents. My wife and I have held off giving her an iPod because we worried once she had it the flood gates would open.

No, the gift came from my daughter's aunt (my sister) who is a lovely, indulgent godparent to my eight year old kitten.

The minute my daughter unwrapped the gift and saw it was an iPod she went mental. My sister had both a pleased and a guilty look on her face because she knew I wouldn't approve. Nevertheless, she was happy the gift was a hit.

So why are we worried about our daughter getting an iPod especially when all her friends seem to have one? Well, we didn't want to go down that particular path just yet.

To minimize the media's all pervasive influence, we live in a media neutral house. Giving my daughter an iPod meant actively inviting High School Musical 1 and 2, Hannah Montana, and Camp Rock into the middle of our home where frankly, we'd been trying to keep them out.

Now don't get me wrong. I don't expect to eliminate these influences from my daughter's life. I know quite well she's seeing or listening to these things at her friends' houses and talking about them in school. I'd just like to minimize them in our house which is one reason why my wife and I keep a "media free zone" at home.

What does this mean? Well, about two years ago we cancelled the cable TV, stopped receiving the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the San Francisco Chronicle and cancelled every magazine subscription (except The New Yorker) in an attempt to keep the uber consumerist, super sexualized, big-busted, thin-waisted, anorexic angst from invading our household. Now, if we could only get the post office to stop delivering catalogs…

Call me crazy but I worked in advertising for 15 years. I know the effect media images have on children. In fact, a UC Santa Barbara Professor named Michael Schudson wrote a book titled "Advertising: The Uneasy Persuasion" that showed the only two target groups that were heavily influenced by advertising were children and developing nations. The reason? Neither had experienced advertising enough to develop the critical faculties necessary to take it with a grain of salt.

If you don't believe me, turn your house into a media free zone for a while and watch how you'll still feel the subtle effects of advertising even when it's not coming through your front door and drilling you in the head every day.

Mind you, we're not Luddites. I don't mind a little Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Spongebob Squarepants, or evenly Kylie Minogue every now and again. We also have an internet connection, read the Times online and allow the kids to watch DVD's that have passed the parental screen. But there is no unsupervised media watching, reading or listening in our home with the exception of books, because there is no media period.

So, imagine how I felt when my daughter lifted her shiny pink iPod out of its gift box. Why the thing was so beautifully designed it looked like it was coated in lip gloss. Talk about inventing desire.

Now my eight year old isn't Amish. She immediately knew what she wanted to order from the iTunes store. High School Musical 2, a lot of Hannah Montana and lately, a few requests for the Jonas Brothers. No requests yet for Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" but since it hit number one on the charts, it can't be far behind.

The problem with Hannah Montana is she comes with Miley Cyrus' photo shoot in New York magazine (not to mention Lindsey Lohan's pics as Marilyn Monroe). With High School Musical comes a whole lot of boy/girl (Troy and Gabriella) trouble which I'd rather not have my eight year old daughter (not to mention my four and a half year old daughter) thinking about yet. And of course, with "I Kissed A Girl" comes Katy Perry's video.

Sure, I listened to "Love to Love You Baby" and "Shake Your Groove Thing" in college. These weren't exactly Baptist hymns but at least I was post puberty. My daughter isn't even sure if she likes boys yet.

So, the iPod opened Pandora's Box for my wife and I. And once that particular box is opened, it can never be closed.

By the way, the user interface on the iPod may be easy to navigate for children and parents but figuring out how to buy a song from the iTunes store and then synching the darn thing with the iPod took me a lot more trouble than I expected and I'm an experienced e-commerce user. Is it really ease-of-use that's made iTunes so successful, or just the 99 cent pricing and a deep music catalog?

Granted, I wasn't exactly a willing participant but the iTunes interface is complex enough that I should be needed to supervise my daughter's music buying habits for another year…

…if I'm lucky.

John Geoghegan is a Director of The SILOE Research Institute and is currently at work on a non-fiction book entitled, "First Time Father."

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