The sexualization of childhood, especially girls has been a heated topic on both sides of the political spectrum. Many decry and argue that young girls especially are too sexualized with provocative outfits, shoes, makeup, songs etc… They claim that girls are growing up too fast, with younger and younger girls wanting to be adults or older teens. They also feel that the solution is to suppress all of the above. They say that we must teach our girls to want to just be kids, and not be obsessed with sexual things like romances, hook ups, and sending off signals. I agree for the most part that conditioning girls to act sexual is detrimental to their development into healthy adults and we should address it. However, I think they aren’t getting to the real roots of the issue: it’s not just girls who are the victims of sexualization. It’s our entire culture!
Hook up culture, which I’ve condemned before is rampant. Sex is just a handshake, a social activity rather than a milestone. Personal responsibility and accountability is gone, it’s just do whatever you want consequence free. Have sex whenever and with whomever. Dress as provocatively as you want and not be held accountable for the attention you receive. Movies, TV, books, etc… are permeated with cheap messages about “flings” rather than serious relationships, promiscuity instead of modesty in action and dress, divorce and breakups and cheating instead of marriage, commitment and loyalty. Obviously, our children are also absorbing these damning messages from society.
However, locking them up in their rooms until they’re 18 and suppressing any exposure to the outside world only raises repressed kids who will go wild and crazy once let out of the dungeon! Parents who think they’re stopping it by locking their child up and not letting them have any freedom in what they do, how they dress, or what they see at 15 for example, will only have a 20 year old who will rebel and do all those things they weren’t allowed to before! For a parent whose goal it is to raise a healthy adult who will combat those messages, I would argue promiscuous behaviors and inappropriate attire at 20 is just as detrimental as at 15. The key I believe is not hiding these thing, but exposing them out in the open for what they are to your kids. My parents always talked openly and let me be exposed to such messages, and I was forewarned, and forearmed as they say. Also, as your kids get older, you may run the risk of suppressing their own natural sexuality as they go into their teen years if you try to erase any trace of sexuality from your home! Sexual repression and zero freedom in childhood and teenage hood lead to wild behavior in adulthood! Watch out, college 😉
Another issue is also one many may have not thought about: the implicit sexualization of adulthood. Children have wanted to imitate adults and be “grownup” since children existed! Haven’t you heard the phrase “monkey see, monkey do” in regards to kids? We adults are role models for our kids, including what our culture deems to be “grown up”. Yes, kids listen to peers and the media more than parents, but the ideas don’t come out of thin air. Someone had to come up with these hook up culture messages! How did our kids get the idea that being hypersexualized was “adult” at all? I think much of a child’s desire for more provocative things is simply an innocent expression of wanting to be more grownup, as children have done since the beginning of time. After all, a child’s job is to become an adult in this world. The people who suppress “adult” things from their children in an effort to de-sexualize them only reinforce the message sexual behaviors equal adulthood. When you say that dress, makeup, heels etc… are too “grownup” for your daughter, she internalizes the message that whatever inappropriate thing is there is something to want in order to be a grownup, rather than more important parts of being an adult.
The rhetoric of this de-sexualization of children movement strongly pairs the concepts of adulthood with sexuality and sex, thereby sexualizing adulthood. This only becomes ironically, the detrimental message that to be an adult, one must be hypersexualized as a person. Dress provocatively, act inappropriately. To these girls being raised that way, with the suppression of any free choice or exposure to things in order to protect them, they learn to equate being 18 with “I can finally be as sexy as I want!”. Yeah. *That’s healthy*… Suppressing their sexual desires and want to be sexual to be grownup rather than directly addressing it with them and really listening to why they want that kind of validation at all, does not change their feelings on the subject, only hides and suppresses them until age 18 when they will act vulgarly and promiscuously once mommy and daddy let go of the reins.
The sexualization of childhood is rooted in our culture’s sexualization of adulthood. The kids follow suit because they learn that’s what adults do to be adults: be sexy. Children want to become the adults they look up to one day. Equating adulthood with sexy things will make them learn to want to be sexual. So what’s a parent who wants to raise girls with modesty and decency to do? Here’s a thought: Stop equating inappropriate things you don’t want your daughters to do with being “grownup”. For example, if your daughter wants to wear sleazy makeup and that too tight up your butt mini dress, don’t tell her it’s “too grownup’ or not “age appropriate”, or “you aren’t wearing that until you’re 18!”. That just reinforces that such things are okay for adults, the people she so desperately wants to be and be validated by. I’d argue too tight up one’s butt hooker dresses are “age appropriate” for no one, especially mature adults!
Tell her instead about the unhealthy messages it sends, the unwanted and dangerous attention it might give her, and the morals and values you want her to embrace as an adult. Make it about her image, and how she presents herself to the world as a virtuous young woman. Ask her if acting and dressing provocatively is consistent with the values she will want in her womanhood and the reputation she gives off about who she is to others. This is what the movement to dress and act modestly should be about. It shouldn’t be about having licence to act however one wants at some arbitrary age. A cheap skank at 18 is as detrimental as being a cheap skank at 15. Why not raise our daughters to embrace modesty and fight against hook up culture in all stages of life, not just her childhood? I personally don’t like the term “age appropriate”. It only sends the message that things are inappropriate at arbitrary ages, instead of in more general terms. True, some fashions are more appropriate for adults and older teens, but it goes both ways! That cute little party dress for your 15 year old I think is not “age appropriate” for you at 50! Nor is a 5 year old’s pink tutu! It’s okay to acknowledge different fashions are for different age groups, but the term is used mostly as code for “too sexy”, reinforcing the message “sexiness equals adult”.
Who’s to say values like modesty and decency are “outgrown” too? At 18, yes, you can dress as provocatively as you want, but should you? Let’s admit it: dressing like a hooker is “age inappropriate” for everyone, not just kids! Can we try to dissuade our kids from dressing inappropriately by acknowledging no one should be wearing that stuff, adult or child? We need to stop implicitly telling our kids, through saying that you can only dress that way or do that thing after age 18, is that your morals and values are simply what mom and dad impose on you, and that modesty and decency in dress and action is for children, but not grownups. After 18, modesty, self respect and decency can be dumped out the window! That’s the message it sends to our daughters when we say provocative behavior is “too adult” or “age-inappropriate”. Why not just call it out for what it is: “inappropriate”, Period. No modifier required! Don’t forget too, how you behave and dress also conveys messages to your daughter. Do you wear revealing outfits? Make comments about dressing for guys? Joke about being “sexy”? Your daughters will pick up on it! As a woman who advocates for modesty and femininity for women and girls, I hope you would agree that the values we teach our children should be the values they intrinsically will embrace in adulthood, not just thrown off at 18. Modesty and decency are “age appropriate” from age 1-100!
I also take offense too at the sexualization of adulthood. When we say it’s too “adult”, or had “adult” themes, we really mean sexually inappropriate. When parents say they don’t want their kids to be too sexy lest they be too adult like waters down adulthood and characterizes all grownups as solely sexual beings. What about things like responsibility, maturity, and accountability? The true markers of adulthood? Sure, sexuality is best expressed in adulthood and not early childhood, but sexuality is not what makes someone an adult. Anyone with part A and part B can have sex and grab sexual attention. The reason why sexuality is best left for adults is that adults in theory, should be able to conduct themselves responsibly, like driving a car or drinking. Children and teens often do not posses the maturity to do so. That’s why sex is adult, because it should be done with maturity, not because adults have some blind entitlement to fling themselves on whoever they please! Hook up culture, unfortunately tells adults the latter message… Telling our children implicitly that promiscuous irresponsible sex is what it means to be a grown up is like telling them so is binge drinking! A glass of wine at dinner is not harmful for older kids, nor is an exploration of sexuality. Binge drinking and promiscuous hookups however, are inappropriate for both parties! I am insulted at the idea that all adults are is their sex organs! Adulthood is full of so much more than who you’re in bed with. It’s about who you are as a person. Your accountability, your morals, your maturity, your obligations in life. That’s what makes a real adult. That’s the sort of adulthood we must teach our kids to want. When we try to stop their sexualization by claiming it’s too adult, we reduce our fellow adults to the level of immature teenagers looking for a fling. Kids imitate what they think will make them grown up. What will we show them grownups are? As the left says, “It’s on us!”
I think the doll in the corner is symbolic of her desire to grow into womanhood leaving girlhood behind. The woman she will want to become is the woman she sees you being right now…