, Gloucester, MA

August 2, 2013

The intrusion of sexuality into childhood

Personal Matters
Susan Britt

---- — Problem: Your 8-year-old daughter wants to act and dress like a teenager. She wants to wear makeup and nail polish and dress in bared-belly tops, tight jeans, short, short skirts and other suggestive clothing that is not appropriate for her age.

Young girls, unfortunately, are victims both of our unhealthy, deeply repressive puritanical and Victorian-era-influenced American cultural history, and our current overly explicit, crass and sexually permeated print and visual media. Traditionally, women have been raised to think of their self-worth and value in society in terms of physical attractiveness. As a result, at an early age, girls strive to replicate the current cultural ideal of “beauty.”

This attitude has been damaging enough, but today there is a new spin on this detrimental cultural influence. Young girls feel the pressure to be sexually alluring at an early age. Childhood is vanishing for girls today as they struggle to fit into a sexually irresponsible society.

The disturbing television reality show “Toddlers and Tiaras” is a prime and sickening example of sexualizing little girls. These female babies, from about ages 2 to 6 years old, are being visually exploited and feeding the deeply sick world of child pornography. They are taught to be sexually flirtatious and are rewarded for it. In my view, this is a form child abuse and should be stopped. The emotional damage to these children is enormous, and when these girls become teenagers, the idea that they are only valuable as sexual objects will permeate their self view, motivating them to make poor relationship and life choices.

As psychologist and author Mary Pipher writes, “In the last decades … children have access to the same information that adults have. The walls that protected children … are coming down. In our electronic global village everyone can watch MTV … play Nintendo and plug into the Internet. Children are not sheltered from what has been considered for hundreds of years to be adult material.

“We flood children with sexual stimulation. In magazine ads semi-nude teens lock in an embrace to sell underwear or jeans. Video games often feature scantily clad sexualized women. Children have scant protection from sexual messages that 20 years ago would have been taboo for grownups.”

So, what can a parent do?

Solution: Be a strong and appropriately protective parent. Challenge this over-sexing of girls (and boys) and fight for your child’s right to experience a healthy childhood. Here are some suggestions:

Explain to your young daughter that childhood is a very special and fun part of growing up. Tell her you don’t want her to miss it, and assure her that she can wear make-up and grown-up clothes when she is a grown-up. But, since most little girls like to play “dress-up like mommy” create fun “pretend to dress up like you”’ times at home that you can share with her using your clothes, shoes and make-up if you use it. This will show her the big difference between what children wear and what grown women wear.

Be certain that your child is involved in age appropriate, non-sexualized activities: sports, dance, music, visual arts, reading, library storytelling.

Ban from your home anything — television shows, movies, music, etc., that promotes sexual (or violent) values inappropriate for your child’s age. Use the parental blocking systems on your electronic devices. Monitor her use of the computer.

Take a stand against companies that use sexually suggestive images to sell products to children: organize letter-writing campaigns to media outlets, call the CEOs of companies, write letters to the editor of newspapers and magazines, and boycott their products.

If we all, whether we have children or not, do not take the responsibility of howling loudly when all children are being hurt and misguided by outside and damaging influences, those without conscience will take our silence as acquiescent approval.

Based in Rockport, psychotherapist and life coach Susan Britt, M.Ed., teaches individuals, couples and families to resolve relationship problems, clarify and achieve life and career goals, and accelerate personal growth. Questions and comments may be addressed to her at or 978-546-9431.