Too Sexy Too Soon
By Marisa Cohen
While it may seem cute when a 5-year-old copies the hip-shaking dance moves
she sees on TV, it's also one of the first signs of how the adult concept of
"sexiness" is being sold to younger and younger kids today, say Diane
E. Levin, Ph.D., and Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D.
In their new book, So Sexy So Soon, the authors explore a culture where
grade-schoolers want to dress like go-go dancers, 10-year-old boys have seen
Internet porn, and 13-year-olds talk casually about oral sex. Here, Kilbourne
discusses how childhood is changing, and what parents can do to protect their
What's different about how little girls are acting and dressing today?
We used to dress up in our mother's clothes. Now little girls are dressing
up as sexy teenagers, and there are clothes being marketed to them that look
like they are from Victoria's Secret. I see little girls wearing strapless
black numbers to the school dance! As a result, girls are getting the message
that not only is it important to be pretty but it is also important to be hot
and sexy. Research clearly shows that this pressure is damaging to girls'
How does this affect their relationships with boys?
Girls have always gotten the message that it's important to attract boys,
but we used to get it a little later, when we were 12 or 13; now they're
getting it as early as 6 or 7. Girls in grade school are competing with each
other to see who's the hottest, and then boys are learning that's how they
should look at girls. It sets up a dynamic that does an enormous amount of
harm. Little boys learn to look at girls as objects rather than as friends.
What happens as kids get older?
When a girl has learned early on that what matters most is how sexy she is,
then by the time she hits the tween years, the message is already deep in her
psyche and it just becomes louder and more harmful. Sex gets speeded up — 12-
and 13-year-olds are doing what 16-year-olds used to do, and by the time
they're 16, many are already blasé about casual sex. That's when you hear about
"friends with benefits" and kids thinking about sex as being separate
from a relationship. This not only puts them at physical risk for STDs,
unwanted pregnancy, or even date rape, but they also lose the chance to develop
the empathy and compassion that are necessary to make intimate relationships
work later on.
What can moms do?
When your children are younger, you can limit their exposure to certain
media. As kids get older, stay familiar with what they are listening to and
watching. Ask them why they like certain songs or clothes so you can open up a
dialogue about it. It's so important to start talking to your kids about
sexuality and relationships as early as possible, in an age-appropriate way. If
they know they can ask you anything and they will not be punished or shamed for
it, that will pay off in incredible dividends when they hit their teenage
years. When kids feel like they can talk to you, they will.
Originally published on October 30, 2008
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