Are Younger Generations Becoming More Superficial? Alessandra Rizzotti

While doing my holiday shopping, I had to make a trip to the American Girl Store. My niece had requested a backpack (equipped with a miniature, yet very factual science text book) for her doll Natalie. I’m not sure I remember a Natalie from my “American Girl” books, but I went with it. After all, the backpack encouraged my niece’s love of learning (or so I made myself think so).

When I got to the store, I was shocked to see the doll hair salon on the first floor, next to a Build-A-Bear type station for dolls. Grown women were styling dolls’ hair for young girls. What happened to little girls brushing their own dolls’ hair? But, more importantly, why wasn’t the American Girl Store teaching young girls about the history behind the “American Girl” book characters on the first floor instead of encouraging them to make their own dolls with or without freckles? For the history lesson, I had to go up the escalator and when I got to the museum-like room in the corner of the second floor, it was quite neglected. Meaning, despite the large crowd of girls in the tea room with $20-24″doll-friendly dining”, no one seemed interested in educator Pleasant Rowland’s reason behind founding the “American Girl” franchise.

I picked up the backpack and rushed out of the store, feeling ashamed I had spent more money on a doll accessory than on any item of clothing in my closet. Was this over-the-top, popular doll culture that was selling pretty successfully indicative of where younger generations were heading? Of course, I’m making a huge generalization over just one doll store, but only a day before this experience, I overheard a mother ask her daughter in the post office, “Would you cry if I got you a book for the holidays?” and the young girl replied, “Yes, for sure I would cry.” It broke my heart.

Thankfully, there are young activists, inventors and leaders out there that aren’t feeding into this superficial consumerism. For example, 10 and 11.5 year olds Carter and Olivia Ries founded the nonprofit One More Generation, which raises awareness about endangered animals. Seventeen year old Brittany Wenger invented a web app that detects breast cancer. Eight year old Kayleigh Crimmins founded Kids for K9s to donate bullet proof vests to police dogs. Twelve year old Koa Halpern founded Fast Food Free to encourage healthier eating in his community.

So, there’s hope. Not all kids are becoming superficial because of the toys that are being sold to them. Some kids are actually learning from the world and doing something with it. Parents should avoid taking their kids to the mall and instead take them out volunteer once a week so that they can see the world in a different way, and maybe realize how they can contribute to it. As for the advice I have for the American Girl Store’s CEO? Why not commodify kindness instead of superficiality?

Photo from AmericanGirl.com.

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  1. I don’t know anything about American Girl dolls, except that when I got in the shop it scared the hell out of me! girls were dressed like the dolls and vice versa, hair saloon and little hospital for dolls, if you ask me is a bit crazy! but then again what do I know?

  2. I don’t necessarily think it’s a fair association to write-off the girls who, at this point in their life, are consumed with the superficial. To imply that all these girls are unable to become “young activists, inventors and leaders out there” because they’re “feeding into this superficial consumerism” is going to hurt them as much as those dolls might. Don’t discount them at such a young age! The world doesn’t need that.

  3. I credit the American Girl Dolls with my love of history (and my acing of all history classes since I first picked up the books). For me, the series were the best part. I read every doll’s book set multiple times through, normally starting chronologically and working my way to the present. I read the books before I got any of the dolls. I can’t wait to share the pieces of my history and my culture/country’s history with my future kids/nieces or nephews one day.

    • The books WERE the best part. Maybe I’m jealous of everyone that can afford these dolls? I dunno…I just think it’s silly to spend so much money on a doll.

  4. I think it’s the parent’s job to amplify the importance of the history of those dolls. I had three of those dolls when I was younger, and I always asked for the books that came with their story and the history of their generation. I believe it’s because my mother always encouraged the importance of reading and history. I also just plain loved reading (and still do when I have a spare hour or so). The history was the best part of these girls, in my opinion. Maybe American Girl could start marketing that aspect a bit better… I’m going on a tangent now, but I hear so many native English speakers complain about how difficult English is.I find it easy and rarely misspell a word, when I witness common atrocities all over Facebook.

    The solution is simple. READ MORE. I think the amount of reading I did as a kid helped to shape my intelligence today. Now if only reading were just as stimulating to the majority of children just as much as TV…

  5. I received my first American Girl doll, Molly, when I was 9 and my American Girl doll of today when I was 10. Both of these were given to me back when the company was still owned by Pleasant Company, and I know a lot of people have been very upset by the way Mattel has handled the dolls. However, the Doll Salon, I have been there a few times, my dolls are now collector’s items, waiting to be passed down to my own children, and I can’t for the life of me get Molly’s braids as neat and tight as they should be, so I was actually really happy with the doll hair salon. And I don’t think anyone should knock high tea time, that’s been a tradition with my mother since I was 8 years old (20 years ago long before American Girl Place ever came about) and something I always greatly enjoyed, a very special treat, that you dress up for in your fanciest clothes. Unfortunately, at least in Chicago, all the old places for high tea closed, I think it’s great that there’s a place that caters to young girls that holds high tea still. It’s up to parents to control how they treat their daughter’s interest. My American Girl dolls were very spoiled dolls, but every thing I got for them was a special treat, as a gift for a special occasion from my aunts or my mom, or as a reward for a major accomplishment. I never for once took it for granted that I had so many things for them, and I was always very careful with them because it was instilled in me that they were valuable. Now I’ve been shopping at American Girl place at the Grove for my littlest cousin and I still love it there, I get very nostalgic, and to be sure, that little cousin and I will be dressed to the nines and sipping high tea in the cafe in the future.

  6. I’ve always loved the American Girl dolls, and I definitely preferred the historical dolls. I loved their stories and I think they helped foster my interest in history (I’m now a history minor). However, to be honest, the American Girl stores have been like that as long as I can remember. I think it’s up to the girls and their parents to strike a balance between the lessons they can learn from their dolls and dressing them up and doing their hair. There is nothing wrong with the latter so long as there is a balance! I don’t believe it is the fault of the store, though.

  7. My future daughter is going to know the American Girl dolls as I knew them–gosh darn-it! Even if that means hunting Felicity down on ebay and giving her dog-eared Samantha books.

  8. I love American Girl dolls. I think the dolls promote historical perspective and individuality with all the race, hair color, eye, skin tone options. There are also accessories for activities and themed outfits for any girl style and/or favorite sport/hobby/interest. Quality comes with price. I have 4 AG dolls in my attic in boxes in excellent condition. I’m 28. I can’t wait to have a daughter to hand them down to.