- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Someday I’m going to do the research and find out why marketers think there is a relationship between getting a headache and buying clothes for a teenager.

I’m convinced there’s data out there supporting the notion that the more offensive and irritating a store’s soundtrack, the more cash we moms and dads are likely to plunk down on the counter.

This has to be true, or why else would I have to endure vulgar rap music while trying to outfit my 14-year-old son with blue jeans that reach the tops of his shoes?

You might argue that the music they play in hip mall stores is intended to attract young customers. But all the people I saw on Saturday who actually made purchases weren’t young - they were parents, like me.

And like me, many of the parents I saw were frustrated, annoyed and even offended by the hypersexual atmosphere that is the mark of today’s mall.

If you’ve been to a mall lately, you know there are teen clothing stores and there are stores ostensibly selling teen clothing but really are selling “lifestyle.”

How to tell the difference? The stores in the market to sell clothes use mannequins attired in the apparel sold in the store, while the “lifestyle” stores advertise their wares with pictures of partially nude models.

The message is clear: Shop here, and you’ll look “hot,” you’ll be “hot” and you’ll get the “hot” boyfriend or girlfriend of your dreams.

This is the lifestyle they’re trying to sell to my son.

We avoid the store with the naked posters on the grounds that I won’t patronize a place that exploits the innocence of its customers. Also, I can’t imagine walking around the mall with a shopping bag adorned with - you guessed it - pictures of partially nude models.

Still, we’re bombarded with messages that disturb me. No matter where I shop with my son, rap music pulses through the air and plays on video screens, filled with not-so-subtle themes about sex, drugs, alcohol and luxury cars.

And in every store, tables of flimsy underwear for girls stand right beside the racks of boxers for guys in a co-ed underwear free-for-all. (When we walk by the display, my son pipes up quickly, “I’m all set on this stuff. Keep moving.”)

What I notice is my son’s embarrassment - and it’s not just because he’s with his mom. Shopping for clothes becomes an exercise in avoidance as he drops his head and pretends to ignore his surroundings.

He’s waiting in line to try on a pair of jeans while the in-store video plays a song that features a girl in various sets of matching undies. She changes outfits from frame to frame while the song plays: “Put on that dress … the one your mama don’t like.”

Jimmy stares at the floor.

We walk through the mall (toward the food court, of course - because Jimmy can’t go more than about 90 minutes without eating) passing a Victoria’s Secret store, where the giant posters that adorn the entry can only be described as soft-core advertising.

Jimmy looks everywhere but at the store and engages me in small talk.

My son is ever the gentleman, even when the situation is “AWKward,” to use teen-speak.

I get that the sights and sounds in the mall are no accident - to figure out why stores use sex to sell clothes, just follow the money.

What I don’t get is why we’re selling our teens a lifestyle that demeans their spirit and corrupts their innocence.

Not to mention the headache for mom and dad.

Marybeth Hicks is the author of “Bringing Up Geeks: How To Protect Your Kid’s Childhood In a Grow-Up-Too-Fast World.” Visit her at www.marybethhicks.com or www.bringingupgeeks.com.

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