By: Marie Williams
Last year, the blogosphere was all abuzz about a fashion spread in French Vogue that featured a ten-year-old model dressed like a Manhattan socialite, in heels and in full make-up, reclining on a bed. The image revived the debate we seem to have every other year or so about how media influences kids and sexualizes them way too soon.
In my view, there is no debate—media does influence kids and clearly sexualizes them way too soon. But don’t take my word for it, in 2010, the American Psychological Association (APA) convened a Task Force on The Sexualization of Girls that identified the problem and made recommendations for change.
If you’re not in the habit of reading reports of scientific study, then you need only look at television. One popular cable show follows families as they enter their toddler daughters in pageants that routinely feature Marilyn Monroe-esque poses and strangely seductive dance routines; another follows mothers as they desperately seek modeling careers for their pre-pubescent girls, often subjecting them to scathing criticism about the size and shape of their bodies, and their perceived fitness or un-fitness for a career in fashion. It’s difficult in the face of all this, to argue that our culture doesn’t push kids to grow up too quickly. While this isn’t a cultural phenomenon limited to girls by any means, it seems to me to be more in evidence if your child is female.
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For example, my daughter, who’s just turned five, happens to love dolls; the more realistic the better. Whenever we’re in a toy store, she gravitates toward the ones that do things that real babies do, like coo or suckle or pee. And for a time, I viewed this as primarily a sign that she was developing healthy feelings of empathy, caring and compassion. Until the day my mother reported that she told her, "I can’t wait to be a Mommy." Wait, I thought. Is that okay? My own mother assured me that it was, and that all it meant was that my daughter’s experience with being mothered was positive. Perhaps so. I hope so.
Still, it made me reflect on the way we—intentionally or unintentionally—program our kids very early on to assume not only certain gender roles, but roles that they may not have otherwise assumed without our influence. I would much prefer my daughter not make a connection between a doll and something as weighty as ‘motherhood’. I would prefer that she see the doll as, well, a doll.
Clearly the solution would not be to wrench her treasured playthings from her arms; So what is a parent to do? I’ll happily acknowledge that I, personally, have no idea, so I went to the “experts” for help. Here are five tips I found that I'd like to share with you:
[Related: Setting Appropriate Cell Phone Boundaries.]
The bottom line is that as parents, we know all too well that adulthood will come soon enough, and with it we lose many things that cannot be recaptured; one of the best gifts we can give our kids is the opportunity to savor their childhood.________________________________________________________________________