So Sexy So Soon

The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids [book excerpt]

By Diane E. Levin, Ph.D., and Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D. Ballantine Books, 226 pages [purchase here]

Editor’s Note: This book offers so much important information for parents and grandparents that we will run excerpts over several issues of GRAND. We encourage you to get this book and learn how to protect your grandkids from the sexualized marketing and media manipulation of children.

Bonus: Click here for “11 Tips to Help Your Grandchildren Through the Minefields”

A four-year-old girl, in the dramatic play area of her preschool, begins swaying her hips and singing, “Baby, I’m your slave. I’ll let you whip me if I misbehave.” When her teacher goes over to talk to her about it, she volunteers that she learned the song from her eight-year-old sister. After doing a bit of research, the teacher discovers that the words are from a highly popular Justin Timberlake song.

Halloween costumes for young girls are so suggestive and risqué these days that Newsweek runs a story titled “Eye Candy: Little Girls’ Halloween Costumes Are Looking More Like They Were Designed by Victoria’s Secret Every Year. Are We Prudes or Is This Practically Kiddie Porn?”

A six-year-old casually asks at dinner, “What’s a blow job?” Before his parents can respond, his ten-year-old sister knowingly screeches, “Oh my God, I can’t believe he asked that!”

An eight-year-old boy comes home and reports to his father that he didn’t know what to do when his friend showed him pornography on the Internet during a playdate at the friend’s house.

Five students are suspended from their elementary school for sexual harassment stemming from an incident on a school bus that involved lewd language and touching. Some of the students said they were playing “the rape game.”

A furor erupts at a bar mitzvah when two girls are caught performing oral sex on the thirteen-year-old bar mitzvah boy in a ladies’ room stall.

Children as young as four learning to gyrate to songs in ways that might have stunned grown-ups a few decades ago. Elementary school children looking at pornography on the Internet and using words such as “rape” and “blow job.” Young teens engaging in oral sex. Parents, grandparents, and teachers around the country and beyond tell us stories like these all the time — about how issues related to sex and sexuality come up in unexpected and even shocking ways with children, often at very young ages….

What’s the Problem?

Children growing up today are bombarded from a very early age with graphic messages about sex and sexiness in the media and popular culture. For instance, younger children have Bratz dolls, which surpassed the sales of Barbie dolls in 2006, and Star Wars action figures, which experience an explosion of sales of highly realistic violent toys every time a movie is released. As children get a little older there is the Manhunt II video game, an extremely violent game that created a firestorm of protest upon its release for not carrying an A (Adult) rating that would have kept it from the hands of children and youth, and Victoria’s Secret thong panties for tweens (eight- to twelve-year-olds) and teens.

Many industries make an obscene amount of money using sex and violence to market their products to children. Whatever their race, ethnic group, economic status, or gender, and whether they can afford to buy a lot or very few of these products, children are deeply affected. We have heard scores of stories, such as the ones above, about children who are learning to look and act in ways that disturb and even shock many adults. But these children are acting in ways that make perfect sense given the sexualized environment that surrounds them.

We are deeply worried. Children are paying an enormous price for the sexualization of their childhood. Girls and boys constantly encounter sexual messages and images that they cannot understand and that can confuse and even frighten them. Gender roles modeled for children have become increasingly polarized and rigid. A narrow definition of femininity and sexuality encourages girls to focus heavily on appearance and sex appeal….

What the Problem Is Not

We are not alarmed that today’s children are learning about sex and sexuality. We are all sexual beings from birth, and this is to be celebrated. Children have always been curious about sex and sexuality from an early age, and it is good for parents, [grandparents] and schools to give them honest and age-appropriate information. But what children are learning today isn’t normal or good for them. We are alarmed by the particular lessons that children are learning. The sexualization of childhood is having a profoundly disturbing impact on children’s understanding of gender, sexuality, and relationships….

To be continued in the July/August issue of GRAND Magazine.

Bonus: Click here for “11 Tips to Help Your Grandchildren Through the Minefields”

Diane E. Levin, Ph.D., is a Professor of Education at Wheelock College in Boston, Massachusetts. She teaches courses on endangered play, peace building with young children, and a summer institute on media literacy. Her work focuses on how various forces in society affect children, and what adults can do about them. She is the author or co-author of eight books, including So Sexy So Soon; The War Play Dilemma; Remote Control Childhood; and Teaching Young Children in Violent Times. She is a founder of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment (TRUCE).

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