February 18, 2011

Sexualization of Young Girls

I came across an article from Redbook titled, "Little Girls Gone Wild: Why Daughters Are Acting Too Sexy Too Soon" and knew I had to read it.  It's a lengthy article, but one I found super interesting.  I highly recommend you check it out for yourself, especially if you have young girls in your home.

The article actually inspired me to have a conversation with some of my students this week during resource about this topic.  I was interested to hear their opinions about sex and role models in today's media as well as their suggestions for parents.

We talked about Disney movies and the messages they send, but none of my students seemed to pick up on the messages mentioned in the article.  They seemed pretty immune to any message that women, per Ariel in The Little Mermaid, have to give up their greatest "gifts" to gain a man.  And as someone who grew up on Disney, I have to say that I was far less sexual than today's youth.  I see this first-hand every day when my 11-13 year-old students are caked in makeup, exposing the (sometimes non-existent) cleavage, and doing everything in their power to gain the attention of their male peers.  I have a hard time swallowing the notion that Pocahontas or Snow White might have anything to do with the "downfall" of our young girls today.   

My students did have a lot to say about today's celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato (they are too young to know about the great rise and fall (and comeback) of Britney Spears) who are all over the media today.  They expressed a lot of concern for the fact that little girls look up to these people because they play characters on children's shows, and they want to be just like them.

"And then they do stupid stuff like make movies of them doing drugs and go to rehab, and that's bad because the little girls want to do it too," one of my students lamented.

As we talked about little girls trying to act like older, negative role models, I couldn't help but think of that scene from Mean Girls when Regina's little sister is gyrating to the song "Milkshake" just like she sees in the music video.  Obviously, the screen writers were poking fun at this notion of little girls acting too adult, but the sad truth is that this isn't too far off from reality.  Anyone who's witnessed a junior high dance can tell you that students are performing moves today that certainly weren't around when we were that age!

So, the question is: What can we do about it?  How do we help our little girls hold on to their innocence? 

My students talked a lot about parents who won't allow their children to watch certain TV shows (Jersey Shore was the most common example) or listen to certain music for fear of negative influence.

"But they're just stupid to do that," laughed one of my students, "because you can't hide it from them forever."

"Exactly," agreed another, "Even if you don't let your kid watch Jersey Shore, they still will know what happens because everyone talks about it on the bus or in lunch."

"Or they just watch it at a friend's house!" added a third student.  (Not that any of my students would ever disobey their parents... they are perfect angels!)

"So, what do you suggest?" I prodded, "What should parents do?"

"Maybe watch the shows with them so you know what's happening too," suggested the first student, "That way, you can talk to them about it if it's bad."

I think my students may be on to something here.  Rather than censoring our children from things that are so pervasive in our culture (obviously, there need to be some limitations, but you get my point), maybe it's best that we allow them to experience these things with our guidance.  What I particularly like about this idea is that it gives us opportunity to talk about issues that are too often ignored or swept under the rug.  It's family bonding time... with a purpose! 

I thought about the novels we read in my classes, which touch on a lot of "adult" subjects: alcoholism, drug abuse, smoking, eating disorders, bullying, gangs, mental illness, child abuse.  Parents (and administrators) approve these texts because students read them with my guidance.  I, for one, find it far more preferable that my students be exposed to these topics with the direction from a positive adult role model than on their own.  If they can read about these things in school with proper guidance, isn't it possible to extend that same discernment to television and music?

I'm interested to know your thoughts on this?  Are our girls growing up too quickly?  What's to blame?  How do we stop this insanity??


  1. i feel you on this one. we used to watch the simpsons together as a family (when it was still controversial to watch the simpsons). i never tried to do the stupid stuff bart did, because we knew it was tv, not real.

    we weren't allowed to watch MTV, though or even dirty dancing. Ha. And my parents wouldn't let me out of the house in sexy clothes (but they didn't restrict my style, i just wasn't allowed cleavage (butt or boobs)

  2. Do you think you'll restrict what your kids can watch as they get older?

  3. I do think some restriction is necessary (without being obvious). Children need boundaries in a world gone wild where anything goes. Children will push the limits no matter where those limits are set, so why set them so high, so fast, so soon?

    You cannot raise the child in a bubble, but they shouldn't be bombarded with everything without restriction just because it's out there. As a parent I would try to dish it all out slower.