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Will Sweet Talking Ken Break Hearts?

Oct. 28, 2011 | Rachel Ehmke

Hey girl, there's a new Ken doll on the shelves, and you better take a seat because this one is big. He's called the Sweet Talking Ken, and he is being marketed as the ultimate boyfriend because he says everything you want a boyfriend to say. It works like this: you press the heart on his shirt and talk into the microphone hidden in his (chiseled) abs. Then Ken repeats your words in his own voice. The perfect man! No wonder Barbie took him back.

Sweet Talking KenOf course The Huffington Post had to ask, "Why is he the ultimate boyfriend rather than the ultimate friend? Do kids ages 5 to 10 really need a romantic, significant other to pump up their self-esteem?" No, clearly five-year-olds don't need boyfriends, but the bigger question is do they need anyone telling them everything they want to hear? There's been a lot of talk lately about how too much positive reinforcement for the wrong things can be damaging to young children. Sweet Talking Ken immediately reminded me of the recent Motherlode blog from Jenny Anderson that begins, "When I was 8, my mom gave me a self-esteem bear. It told me I was great." While the bear (and Ken) seem innocent enough, they are still part of the world of super-nurturing positive reinforcement that gives children dangerous expectations about life. Praising a child for her hard work is one thing, but complimenting her on her "brilliance" is quite another. Research shows that when kids get over-praised for everything they do, they develop a skewed perception of reality and, worse, won't build the coping skills and resilience needed for adulthood. Anderson summed it up saying, "the real world doesn't praise them for getting dressed in the morning."

It's ironic that we're cautioning parents against a Mattel product that could make your daughter feel too good about herself, but there you are. If parents are going to worry about Barbie's unrealistic body proportions then they should also be concerned about Ken's (and their own) sometimes unrealistic support. And since Straight Talking Ken probably won't be invented anytime soon, the job of nurturing our children responsibly is our own.

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