Magazine Messages

There are dozens of teen magazines, but almost all of them are directed toward girls. And although these magazines are theoretically targeted to teens, there's no doubt that they encourage and attract tween readers as well. Four best-selling teen magazines that target girls are Seventeen, Cosmo Girl! J-14, and Teen People. Headlines from these magazines emphasize fashion, clothes, sex, makeup, celebrities, being hot, and finding boyfriends. Most of the photographs are of stars in sexy poses, and the advertisements show models in flirtatious and suggestive stances. Paradoxically, intermixed with the seductive models and celebrities are photographs of tweens and teens who look wholesome, attractive, and normal, permitting readers to see kids like themselves in juxtaposition to celebrities and models.

What's different in girls' magazines now is the premature emphasis on using sex to attract boys. When your daughter brings home teen magazines -- and she will -- there will be a lot to discuss with her. Although these magazines contain quizzes, craft projects, activities, stories, and even some good advice, most teen magazines perpetuate the idea that appearance, sexual allure, and having a boyfriend are what's most important for girls.

By valuing quality articles in magazines and discussing your issues with the rest, you can give your daughter a balanced view of the material she may be reading. Occasionally reading these magazines isn't likely to be detrimental for girls who already have a confident self-image. However, you should review any magazines your kids read and consider their appropriateness before buying subscriptions. Also, discuss their underlying messages with your daughters so they don't get sucked into pervasive and condescending messages. Make it clear that a girl is much more than a pretty face, thin figure, or provocative fashion showpiece. Remind them that their intelligence, creativity, hard work, and personalities will provide the lifelong opportunities they'll want.

Not all girls' magazines focus on sex, fashion, and boys. American Girl, aimed at 9- to 12-year-olds, conveys lots of positive values and messages, and it offers ideas for crafts, hobbies, and developing new interests. New Moon, edited by a panel of young girls, is superb for empowering and encouraging girls to be strong and smart and is free of advertisements. Written by teens, Teen Voices is instructive for more-mature tweens. Girls' Life is written mostly by adults, but it includes some teen writing as well. Although it includes references to fashion and appearance, it doesn't have the pervasive sexual message that many other magazines do. This magazine is also more appropriate for mature tweens.

The effects magazines have on boys aren't as negative as they are for girls, primarily because boys tend to read magazines that focus on their interests. The only popular, general magazine for boys is Boys' Life, which is distributed by the Boy Scouts of America to members of the organization. The magazine includes positive interests, activities, and of course, humor, which seems to keep boys interested. Sports Illustrated, Sports Illustrated for Kids, and other specific sports magazines encourage boys' admiration of athletes -- for better or worse, depending on their heroes of choice. Other interests like music, photography, computers, fitness, video games, science, travel, and cars are targeted by magazines like Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, DRUM!, Popular Photography, and National Geographic. Magazines geared both for boys and for girls, like Junior Scholastic (distributed in schools) and National Geographic Kids, stress education and teach kids about science, math, and social studies.

Headlines from Seventeen magazine in the 1970s

What Your Voice Tells about You
The Gentle Art of Understanding Your Parents
Hurry-Up Hairdos
How to Beat the Gossip Game
Which Is Best-Oldest, Middle, Youngest Child?
Prize Fiction
How Can I Get Him to Notice Me?
Write, Illustrate, Photograph Stories
Poems and Reports from Worldwide Places

Headlines from Teen magazine in 2004

The Sexiest Hairstyles; The Sexiest Jeans
On Girls, Geeks, and Going All the Way
How to Be Happy, Calmer, and Hotter
203 Ways to Look Crazy Good!
438 Ways to Meet Tons of Guys
Turn-On Secrets He'll Never Tell You
Get a Better Body in Two Weeks
476 Ways to Look Sexy for Spring
Hot! Sexy-Guy Postcards Inside

Copyright © 2005 Sylvia Rimm

Reprinted from: Growing Up Too Fast: The Rimm Report on the Secret World of America's Middle Schoolers by Sylvia Rimm, PhD (September 2005; $23.95US/$31.95CAN; 1-57954-709-5) © 2005 Sylvia Rimm. Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098. Available wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher by calling (800) 848-4735 or visit their website at

Author's Bio: 

Sylvia Rimm, PhD, is a noted child psychologist who directs Sylvia Rimm's Family Achievement Clinic and is a clinical professor at Case School of Medicine, both in Cleveland. Her books include See Jane Win, a New York Times bestseller, and Rescuing the Emotional Lives of Overweight Children, which was a finalist for the Books for a Better Life Award. A syndicated newspaper columnist and a favorite personality on public radio, Dr. Rimm has also appeared on NBC's 20/20 and The Today Show and MSNBC's Weekend Today. She and her husband reside in Cleveland, Ohio.

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