The other day I was blown away by a CBC documentary, called ‘Sexted Up Kids‘ which as the title suggests is about the sexualization of childhood. This was no gentle prod about the state of the world but instead, an ‘in your face’ account of the sexualization of childhood and how horribly pervasive it is in our culture.
Sadly, none of what they discussed was a surprise. My daughter recounts to me daily the words she’s called in school by kids who think it’s normal to use the word ‘whore’ after each sentence. I won’t go in to the other words. I remember her telling me that when she was in grade seven, she sat down in a school computer class at a space just vacated by a fellow male student, only to turn on the screen and find herself face to face with a porn site.
Start the fight back early
I know when your children are in diapers and you are weighed down with diaper bags and bottles, strollers and car seats, it’s hard to get excited about aspects of life that seem so far in the future. The one that probably seems the most far off is sex. It’s not easy to see that little innocent person in front of you as being a teenager, who by the time they grow will be confronted with the most blatantly sexualized period in history, at least in recent history. I hear the Romans were quite an explicit lot.
What you might not realize though, is this doesn’t start when your little one enters the ‘tween’ stage, it’s starts much earlier. What might surprise you, is that the business of turning little girls in to sex objects and little boys in to ready made sex consumers, get’s kickstarted barely the moment they are out of diapers.
So how does this work? Well, it’s because of a little thing in the marketing industry called ‘KAGOY.‘ Children have always idolized the idea of being grown up. We all tottered around on our mom’s high heels at one point in our childhood trying to look cool and grown up. The marketing industry has simply shrewdly picked up on this concept and created the concept of KAGOY, which simply means, ‘Children are getting older younger.’ That means if seven year olds want to be a 13 year olds, that marketers think marketing to them as though they were actually 13 year olds, is fair game.
Watch for marketing everywhere
It all starts nicely enough. Letting your three year old girl play princess seems harmless enough, doesn’t it? We even think it’s cute and tell ourselves that it’s make believe and what can be harmful in that? A make believe world of pretty princesses even offers an element of protectiveness, almost as if they’re being shielded from the world. Little girls want to be Ariel, or Snow White, or Belle, or Jasmine and Disney alone, has 26,000 products based on these and the other 3 ‘princesses.‘
But Peggy Orentein, author of ‘Cinderella Ate My Daughter,’ who is featured in the film, draws our attention to the fact that far from being protective, these Disney princesses are all about teaching children to view themselves as ‘the prettiest’ or the ‘fairest of them all.’ In other words, teaching little girls that their worth is tied up in their looks. Promoting the idea that their value is externalized and comes from being considered pretty. Then later that need to be valued turns them from wanting to be the ‘fairest of them all,’ to wanting to be the ‘hottest’ of them all.
Watch the toys you let your child play with
Bratz dolls and Monster High dolls simply make a bad situation, worse. The Bratz dolls are heavily made up with pouty sexualized lips but the Monster High dolls take the cake, as some of those, as pointed out in the show, have on a thong! It’s little wonder that our little girls are in danger of growing up to think their role is to be a sex object for boys. As they enter the ‘tween’ market at about seven, they and their parents are made to think that wearing a shirt that says ‘Who needs brains when you look like this,’ is normal and just part of our culture, perhaps even cute. Yet it holds a far more disturbing message.
All I can say is, try buying a pair of shorts for a sixteen year old girl? It’s virtually impossible to find ones that aren’t so far up her rear end as to make them more a pair of underwear than shorts. Even with reasonable shorts on some guy on the bus came up to her and said “Hey, I like your ass.” My daughter turned around and said, “Perhaps you should notice my face first!” I thought she struck just the right tone between calling him an outright jerk, which he deserved but which might have caused other issues as a result, especially as she was on her own.
Look at the messages coming through the media. The ‘Be Stupid’ ads from Diesel Jeans are a case in point. Banned in Britain, they show images like two teenagers on a bed making out with a roommate hiding underneath, with the caption “Smart has the plans, stupid has the stories.’
So what about boys?
Boys of course, are not immune to this sexualized culture and are just as affected by it. Trained through advertising media to see girls not as people, fellow human beings with feelings and a need for love just like them, but as objects to be sexy for them. The end result of that, is boys who cannot understand ‘no’ because they have been led to believe that because girls project sex, that must mean they want it. Note the disturbing, brutal reaction shown by some of the boys in the recent sexual assault case of 15 year old Rehtaeh Parsons, who was gang raped at a party. Some of them texted with comments like, “Will you have sex with me?”
Easy access to porn is behind this change. Boys are seeing it at home and school and as the film points out, all parents tend to think it’s somebody else’s child that’s doing it. The facts are that it’s nearly everybody’s child doing it. Boys are increasingly using their mobile devices and home computers to access it and with it comes a change in their idea of how sex and love is supposed to look and feel. They no longer see sex as part of connectedness, as a way of expressing love but instead, as a brutal and often violent act, a thought pattern that stays with them and has the potential to destroy relationships in the future.
Why aren’t we talking about the porn industry?
Yes, we have classes in schools that are supposed to address all this but in all the years my daughter has been in them, they’ve yet to mention the porn industry. Seems to me, like an alarming omission.
No parent wants their child to encounter any of this. Perhaps reading this you’d like to buy an airplane ticket to somewhere you can escape and help your children keep their innocence. Many parents think they have time, that this can only happen when the kids are older. That was the message of this film. You don’t have until they’re older. You have to start now.
From toys and clothes that promote sex to the language used to describe it, our cultural idea of sexuality and love is deteriorating more quickly than any of us could ever imagine. In the feedback section for the film, I found one comment from a kindergarten teacher. She said, that although potty talk has been around for generations, children’s words have now taken on a frighteningly sexualized tone. This apparently even applies to children as young as four years old.
Know what your kids are up to
So what are the solutions? I’d love to say we can fight against it by calling for laws that prevent advertising to children, particularly over the internet. In fact, I think we should try and do just that, though what’s right is seldom chosen over what is profitable.
Having said that, we can also fight against it in our own homes. Put the computer somewhere right in the middle of the house where you can monitor what’s being looked at. Help the kids avoid children’s gaming sites and products that are linked to online games, as this is one of the most effective ways the marketing industry gets to your children. Avoid buying your children mobile devices but if you do, monitor what they can and can’t access and remove them frequently.
Buy the least sexed up dolls you can find and make comments about ones that your children play with elsewhere. Draw their attention to the way our culture views girls as soon as you can. Do a chore together and chat whilst you do it. “Isn’t it sad that dolly has so much makeup on.’ I wonder why she needs all that makeup to feel good about herself?”
Teach respect for both boys and girls
Don’t forget your little boys too. Talk to them about the sexualized culture in a way they can understand and do it often, pointing out everything you can that explains how boys should relate to girls. Explain to boys that no matter what choices girls make, they are all deserving of respect. Show them the forces that girls experience to help them understand what is happening and show them where society gets it right and where it gets it wrong. Get Dad involved too and keep the messages coming all the time as they grow.
The bottom though is really simple. The only way this will get better is if we, the parents shout loud enough and act through our wallets. Thinner profits; that’s the only thing the marketers and companies care about. Let’s stop the sexualization of childhood. Let’s send them a message, loud and clear.