What Can I do to Protect My Kids from Seeing Inappropriate Fashion Catalogs?

Michael RichQ: I recently received the Spring 2015 Catalog from the department store Barneys New York. The catalog was sent to my house without any envelope or sleeve to protect it from being opened by kids, even though it contains pictures that I believe are inappropriate for young children. What can be done to prevent such mailings in the future? Are there any laws that govern how such catalogs are sent?

– Mad about mail, USA

A: Dear Mad,

I can understand your consternation. Because it sells its products directly to consumers, the fashion industry invests heavily in marketing, often with the assumption that any attention is better than no attention. In a competitive global marketplace, some companies use controversial tactics to get people to take notice. The First Amendment protects advertisers as well as the press from censorship unless materials are deemed to be “obscene” by a judge, so there’s little you can do through legal pathways to prevent them from producing such materials or mailing them to your house.

But you are not helpless. You have the right to ask the store to take you off of their mailing list. You can write a letter stating exactly how you feel about their marketing tactics, and remind them that there is more than sales at stake – children can be affected. You can explain that, because you do not want your children exposed to their advertising, and because you do not want to support them in making such material available to any children, you will not shop at their stores. You can suggest that you will spread the word to your friends and family to do the same. Few people take the time to make their voices heard in this way, which amplifies the voices that do speak up. You may be surprised by their response. Consumer products companies go to great lengths to engage your brand loyalty and they often will do as much to hold onto it. Remember that advertising exists to sell products and services. If we don’t like their messages, one of our best tactics is to vote with our wallets. If enough of us don’t buy the products that they advertise or the media products they make, they will change what they produce.

Even if you are off the Barneys New York mailing list, however, your children may have already seen this catalog and will likely see others like it (as well as billboards and magazine ads) in the future. To help them make sense of what they see, take the time to talk with them about it. Some kids are upset by such images, some are confused, others are curious, and still others are oblivious. Create a space for them to ask questions, and help them process their feelings by answering in ways that they can understand. Use this experience as an opportunity to teach them to question, “Who created these images?” “What did they want viewers to do?” “What do these images leave out?” (Clothes, for one, but also, realistic bodies and behaviors…) Build their media literacy and critical thinking skills so that they can protect themselves. The best software for protecting your children from harmful images and messages sits between their ears. Cultivate it by modeling critical thinking, openly discussing what they are seeing and hearing in a non-judgmental way, and teaching them that with media, we are what we eat.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,

~ The Mediatrician