Boy Crazy! cards are a bad idea, experts say

Game: The latest fad for young girls could damage their self-esteem and encourage an unhealthy approach to relationships, say child development specialists.

March 12, 2000|By Darryl E. Owens | Darryl E. Owens,Knight Ridder/Tribune

Meet Justin, your average flaxen-haired 18-year-old. Justin's into trucks, Dr. Pepper and Chinese food. He also digs girls with blond hair, a nice smile and a sense of humor.

Justin possesses hazel eyes, stands 6 feet, and is a Gemini. This teen-age "hottie" from the Lone Star State is also card (NU)340 -- one of the 363 lads whose mugs appear on trading cards featured in a new game for girls called Boy Crazy!

The game is aimed at girls 10 and up as an alternative to Pokemon and Magic: The Gathering, two trading-card games sometimes favored by boys. Boy Crazy! is designed to encourage girls 10 and up to develop healthy and realistic attitudes toward dating and to empower decision-making skills with its "real boys for real girls" hook.

But some child development experts say the philosophy underpinning Boy Crazy! is anything but healthy or empowering for girls.

"I think it sends a clear message to them that what they should focus on is boys and their own sexuality. It encourages this preoccupation with relationships instead of focusing on schoolwork, friendships with boys and girls, and their own self-development, apart from boys and dating," says Leslie Gavin, a pediatric psychologist with Nemours Children's Clinic in Orlando. "I just think this is a bad idea."

An interest in boys is healthy, but what Boy Crazy! by its very name does, experts say, is point to the line between healthy interest and boy obsession -- a focus on boys and precocious sexuality to the exclusion of other things -- that can lead to lower self-esteem, failing grades and disrupted family life.

Decipher, the Norfolk, Va. company behind Boy Crazy!, unveiled the game earlier this year. Boy Crazy! was shipped to stores on Valentine's Day.

The matchmaking game system features 363 cards, sold in packs of nine for $3. You need only a single pack to play. One player secretly selects the boy she favors and outlines her reasons on paper. Then she spreads out the cards in plain sight.

Her girlfriends examine the cards, try to match the first player with the boy they believe she chose, and jot down their reasons for their decisions. Each player who guesses correctly scores a point. Play continues this way until each girl has had a chance for the others to guess her match. The player with the most correct guesses wins.

Boy Crazy! cards feature a head-shot of a guy age 12-22, a thumbnail biography, vital statistics -- height, date of birth, eye color, and zodiac sign -- and key facts like favorite food, music, pet, or TV show. Also listed are his ideal traits in a girl. A new batch of boys will make their debut each year.

The first batch of young men were tapped during a nationwide search for "500 of the greatest guys ages 12 to 22" to ensure there would be boys "to match every girl's taste," according to press handouts. Winners "had to be cool, inside and out." Girls can "collect the whole set, trade them with friends and definitely drool over your favorites."

Said Decipher president Cindy Thornburg in a press release: "We believe it offers a real tool for girls who are exactly that -- boy crazy. They're going through this exciting new developmental phase, and in most cases, have no one to talk to about it. Boy Crazy! was designed to offer fun opportunities for girls to discover who they are and what they like in guys. Boy Crazy! helps them figure it all out, and have fun at the same time."

Child development experts agree with one point: Girls face important issues about the time of their 10th birthdays.

Numerous studies, including "Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America," commissioned nine years ago by the American Association of University Women, revealed that 60 percent of all girls ages 8 and 9 boast healthy self-esteem. During adolescence, external forces whittle self-esteem so that by high school only 29 percent of girls are happy with who they are.

Girls who consider themselves of little value may spiral into substance abuse and eating disorders, or allow boys to define who they are by emphasizing things such as "pretty eyes" (Sheldon, card (NU)341), having a "pretty face" (Diego, card (NU)265), or a "nice physique" (Paul, card (NU)72).

"It's very similar marketing to the teen magazines where all is mentioned is beauty and having a boy," says Heather Johnston Nicholson, director of Research for Girls Incorporated, a national resource center for strengthening girls. She concedes that some boys list desirable traits such as intelligence, kindness, compassion, but she argues most of the boys zero in on physical appearance. "The notion that girls from very young ages need to be paired off to be self-confident and acceptable to peer groups must make it very difficult for girls who don't fit the mold."

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