About a month ago, my mother called me and asked, “Have you seen that show about toddlers and beauty pageants?” She was referring to the TLC show Toddlers & Tiaras. My mother, a retired teacher and nanny for infant twins, was completely appalled by the entire thing. Last weekend, I went to a kids ice skating performance (year end recital type thing for skating) and was shocked by the sexiness of some of the girls’ outfits. There were 6- to 8-year-old girls wearing extremely short boy shorts and tight v-neck tank tops. Just last week, LZ Granderson wrote an article titled Parents, Don’t Dress Your Girls like Tramps for CNN.com begging parents to stop buying such provocative clothing for their little girls. Kids are wearing clothes with “juicy” written on their bottoms, Abercrombie & Fitch came out with a “push-up bikini for young girls, and the Halloween costume options for Tween girls are insane! Besides clothing, kids- especially girls- are playing with increasingly sexualized dolls and toys (Bratz dolls are just one example).
This isn’t a topic that just parents and media personalities are talking about and taking seriously. The American Psychological Association has created a task force to address the issues related to the Sexualization of Girls. In 2007, the task force came out with a report that talks about the consequences of the sexualization of girls, including cognitive, emotional, and heath consequences as well as those related to sexuality, attitudes, and society as a whole. They also include a series of recommendations for research, practice, education, and public policy. Common Sense Media wrote an article titled “Too Sexy Too Soon” that provides great tips to parents to help them deal with a marketing environment that is promoting these sexualized images.
The biggest take home point is that parents need to get involved. When your kids are younger it’s a little easier because you have more control. As a parent you are largely in charge of buying their clothes, you can set standards for what they watch on TV and access on the Internet, and you can heavily influence what toys they play with at home. Help your child to appreciate other qualities in people like intelligence or kindness rather than focusing on beauty. Remember the post Kids Are Always Watching– well they are, so make sure you model appropriate behavior for your kids by recognizing other children and parents for qualities beyond beauty. For example, if you are at the park and another little girl has a very cute outfit on, refrain from commenting on her clothes or how cute she looks. Maybe she got off the swing and let your child have a turn, comment to your daughter how nice the little girl was acting by sharing her swing.
When kids are older it is a little harder. There is peer pressure from classmates and friends, the need to fit in, and the constant bombardment of marketing and media messages about how girls (and boys for that matter) should look. Talk to your older children about the messages they are seeing on TV, in magazines, on the Internet (and maybe even at home). Here is a great video that quickly provides examples of the images that are being portrayed to our young children about beauty. This video can act as a conversations starter! Talk about the ways in which people in the media may look different than they do in real life- for example digital techniques like airbrushing, etc. Here is a great Dove video that demonstrates what happens between when a model walks in the door for a photo shoot and the final project.
CommonSense Media provides Recommendation lists for a variety of media contents for kids and specifically has a list of Positive Role Model TV programs for Girls. Sadly the list is not very impressive, but it is a start.