Normally I am very pleased with the children's magazines put out by Carus Publications, producers of Cricket, Ask, Ladybug, and several other titles. Each of my children receives one subscription. Generally they're very child-positive, and the science articles in particular tend to be well done without much dumbing down.
Boy, howdy, though, I couldn't let this one slide. This is the back cover of the January 2012 issue of Odyssey, the science magazine aimed at kids aged 10 to 16:
Yeah, you read that right. The little sister is hugging the big sister, and the big sister is rolling her eyes and wishing the little sister had never been born.
The context here is that this month's issue is about "annoyance." The consulting editor for the issue is a professor of psychology as well as brain/cognitive science. There are articles about the role of cortisol, about talking being more effective at calming oneself than texting, about how the sound of whining children distracts mothers more than the sound of whining table saws, and about how psychologists classify "annoyance" among five basic emotional states. There's even a sidebar explaining that some sounds, such as crying babies, are annoying for a good reason: because they signal a need that we're supposed to meet.
But that picture... I'm sure it's supposed to be funny, but I'm disturbed even by the notion that this appears in an educational magazine. If they had pictured a girl sitting in a desk rolling her eyes at a teacher and thinking, "Tell me again why I haven't dropped out yet," I bet they'd get an earful from the classroom teachers who make up a sizable portion of their subscriptions.
Anyway, I called. "I'd better leave the room," said the 11yo as I dialed the phone, "because I don't want to hear you yell."
"I'm not going to yell," I said. "It's not the fault of the person who answers the phone number published in the magazine." So the kids watched.
I talked to a very nice young woman named (I think) Kirsten, who when I said, "I have a comment about the January issue of Odyssey" told me to hang on while she got a copy of the magazine to look at. Once I got her onto the back cover, I described what I saw.
"I see a younger sister giving a hug to her big sister. The little girl is looking up at her big sister with a loving smile. The older sister is looking away and expressing regret that her little sister was ever born." I went on to explain that I found it disturbing, that my children found it disturbing (the 11yo was the one who showed it to me), and that I assumed it was supposed to be funny; but that the "funny" fell flat, because it's just not representative of the child-positive messages I expect to see in the Cricket family of publications. Children aged ten to sixteen are exactly the age group who are most susceptible to negative messages about the value of younger siblings, I went on. I am happy to have every one of my kids. My children are happy to have every one of their siblings. I want it to stay that way.
"See, I didn't yell," I pointed out to the kids after I had left my contact information, acquired the name and email address of the person to whom my message should be directed, and ended the call.
"Sometimes you yell," observed my 8yo.
I thought about it. "Yes, sometimes I do. It helped that I knew the person on the other end of the line didn't have anything to do with the cover, and that she was very polite and listened to me. It's much harder to keep yourself from yelling if the other person is rude."
The senior editor of Odyssey is Elizabeth Lindstrom, and her email is email@example.com .
(NB. If you're reading this long past the issue date of January 2012, consider the post outdated.)