Monday, February 14, 2011

The Girl Scout Alternative - By Guest Blogger, James Langan

Parents once did actually raise their children mostly by themselves, acting as role-models – and playing the roles of coach, counselor, and protector. Of course, friends, school, and celebrities have always influenced the forging of values and identity within the child; but usually took a back seat to the examples set in the home, which remained the magnetic North on the life-compass children rely on to find their way to adulthood. For a long time, this was the dominant paradigm that served to form a society that at the very least struggled to be fair and just.  Though imperfect and boiling over with exceptions to the rule, a lot of good did come from it.  Today, however, the formation of a child’s values and identity is also influenced by a myriad of forces that may not always have the child’s best interest at heart.

On the way to the bank, marketers figured out that a lot of money could be made by hijacking the value and identity formation process of the child and supplanting it with a process that would transform the child into a maniacal buying-obsessed, thing-craving beast.  This has succeeded.   Riding the wave of the technological revolution, manufacturers have seized the media to bombard the defenseless mind of the child with literally millions of messages that self-worth and social acceptance – the keys to healthy development – can be purchased like nails and screws in a hardware store.  As a result, the edifice upon which the child’s identity and values rest often consists of designer clothes, cell phones, cars, and other thingy things that tend to possess the child more than she possesses them.  How sad!

This obsession with buying and having often steals center stage in a child’s development, leaving little time and energy for character development.  This is especially true for young girls, who are also bombarded with messages about beauty and body image. For them, attaining the fiercely marketed “ideals” of both becomes only path to happiness and social acceptance.  How convenient for cosmetic, clothes, and jewelry manufacturers that these “ideals” are unattainable for most girls, leaving them nevertheless in a desperate struggle to attain them anyway while spending billions of dollars each year in the attempt.  The market-contaminated values infecting the girl often leaves her miserable, and not much imagination is needed to figure out what effect this has on her real social development, school performance, and sense of self-worth. Having to grow up in such a predatory environment exacts a heavy price on both the girl and society.

But parents do have a choice:  They can sit passively by while real-time electronic images of strangers – be they on television or the Internet – actively interfere with the formation of their daughters’ identity and values, or they can take counter-measures to prevent the hijacking of their daughters’ identity and value formation by offering their daughters an alternative that would empower them and give them a means to defend themselves against the onslaught.

For their daughters, the Girls Scouts of Nassau County offers one such alternative. While Girl Scouting is not divorced from the trappings of the commercial world or the Internet, its values based programming offers far less expense to the family, while promoting leadership, healthy living, and making sound business choices. Girls build friendships based on common values and shared activities that include service and action.  And when Girl Scouts do make that occasional trip by the television or go to the mall, they are better equipped to ask questions as to why they may need or want the shiny objects dangled before them.