The essay prompt can be found here. Scroll down to the end of the practice test in this booklet .pdf file.
The issue of the cultural trend of adults playing with children’s toys, reading children’s books, and otherwise consuming cultural products intended for children has caused quite a debate in today’s society. One perspective is that when adults consume cultural materials intended for children, they gain an insight into today’s children they would otherwise lack, giving them empathy for, and insight into the minds, of these children. The second perspective is that adults are meant to be “models of maturity and responsibility,” to quote the essay prompt, and that when adults use media resources, toys, and other materials meant to children, they behave immaturely and deprive actual children of adult role models. The third perspective is that children need their own “cultural space” with toys, movies, books, websites, music, etc. that adults do not use, and when adults infringe upon children’s cultural space, the children “lose out.” All three perspectives make valid points, but all three have their limitations. The best approach to this “problem” is simply for adults to balance their consumption of children’s media, physical products, and the like with adult media (no, I do not mean pornography), physical products, and the like.
The first perspective is correct in that watching movies and reading books, or otherwise using media products aimed at youth gives adults insight into the concerns of today’s children, as well as possibly greater empathy for those children. Certainly movies, music, and young adult or children’s books can give grownups a view into the minds of teenagers and children, to the extent the movies, music, and books realistically represent today’s children. However, this is only in addition to whatever adults remember of their own childhoods, and usually isn’t going to be very different from what they learned and experienced in their own youth, except for trends in clothing, music, etc. Sometimes values actually do change radically, as in the “generation gap” between the World War II “greatest generation” and the “Baby boomers” born from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. This perspective is lacking for the reasons listed in the second and third perspectives, discussed below, and also because it does not account for the need to actually engage in discussions with today’s children to find out what their concerns are, and what, if anything, adults should do to help them.
The second perspective is that using children’s products, whether physical toys, dolls, etc., or media products such as music, movies, and books, is simply acting immaturely and depriving children of role models. This perspective is lacking in that is fails to account for who produces children’s toys and media, namely, grownups. Cartoons such as Bugs Bunny, SpongeBob SquarePants, while firmly aimed at children, have many, many references and jokes made by adults for adults. The same applies to books such as the Harry Potter series, and movies such as The Lego Movie. These cultural products allow for adults and children to bond over the same media, since there are elements both children and adults can enjoy. Furthermore, some cartoons and comic books are really made for adults, and probably should be kept away from young children. South Park cartoons on Comedy Central’s cable network and The Dark Knight Batman comic book series spring to mind, as well as graphic novels such as The Watchmen and Ghost World, both of which were used to make R-rated movies. Obviously, the adult references, profanity, graphic violence, and the like found in those media should NOT be viewed by children.
However, the second perspective is correct in that adults who consume mostly or only children’s media, play with toys, wear adult-sized children’s clothing, or always wear T-shirts with cartoon characters on them, and the like, will be seen as immature people whose development was arrested at some point. So there is a value to this perspective.
The third perspective, that children must have a cultural space to call their own, with ideas that belong only to them, is valid, and has existed since the beginning of humanity. The interests of children are different from those of teenagers, which are different from those of adults. However, the concern is not particularly pressing, as children are fantastically creative, and can skip from on cultural product to another at the drop of a metaphorical hat. Something that’s “cool” today can be “lame” or “sucky” or whatever the slang for “bad” is, tomorrow, and the fastest way to make something “lame” is for all the adults to proclaim their love for it. Cultural products such as “Pogs” (based on the bottoms of fruit juice container caps from Hawai’i), Cabbage Patch dolls, and even Internet platforms (MySpace, Facebook, Instagram) wax and wane in popularity – they “come and go.” While adults still use Facebook, teenager and children have moved to Instagram, Snapchat, and many other new phone applications and websites, in an attempt to maintain their own cultural space away from adults’ prying eyes.
My perspective balances these three previous perspectives. While I see nothing wrong with adults using children’s products (after all, adults made them, and often include references in children’s media that only adults would understand), it’s never “cool” to be the kind of adult who’s obsessed with children’s media or toys. Most people smirk at “the weird guy who has a room filled with Batman stuff,” or the real-life analogues of “Comic Book Guy” from The Simpsons. And children do need their own “cultural space,” as the third perspective states, but the same “Comic Book Guy”-type person isn’t really going to dominate children’s spaces, for the same reason that most people, children or adults, wouldn’t want to be friends with the Comic Book Guy. He’s immature and vaguely disturbing or “creepy” to children and adults alike. And that’s how children find their own cultural space – they use materials provided to them by the culture, their parents, the schools, etc., but then they add to their own culture by creating their own subculture of slang, games, uses of the media provided to them, and so on, in such a way to create their own space in society. So I see nothing wrong with adults’ use of children’s products as long as the adults limit their own products for their own sake. The children will be fine. To quote the Who, “The Kids are Alright.”
Author: John Linneball Who did you think? ;-)
I'm the proprietor and only tutor for this business; that's why I named it after me.