Our Hypersexualized Media: How to Help Our Children

On our 10-minute walk home from school, my six-year-old daughter and I have our regular conversation about what happened at school that day. Sometimes, when she feels like talking about it, she reveals some of the social dynamics of her first grade class. There always seems to be someone who is left out or has no friends for a few days.

Like most parents, I cringe and feel sorry for the child who is left out and obviously don't want my daughter or anyone else to suffer. But I realize that this is boot camp for adolescence when the self-esteem of my daughter and the other children will really be put to the test.

Another topic that has come up on occasion is my daughter's passing comments about how one girl thinks that she is the most beautiful. I used to think that the girls were mistaking beauty for self-confidence, but lately, I have heard the word "sexy" mentioned.

Now is this just a word the kids have picked up somewhere? I asked a few more questions to find out the actual context of the word "sexy." I know that both the boys and the girls use it, but when I asked my daughter what it meant, she shrugged and didn't answer. Does this bear watching?

Coincidentally, a few weeks ago, I had posted a blog entry on Twittermoms about models who looked liked they were about 12 years old in ads I had seen downtown. Hmmm...maybe this did require more consideration.

I quickly discovered that many parents, educators and women's groups are concerned about the increasingly sexualized portrayal of young girls in the media. There is growing concern about preteen girls wanting to wear clothes that emphasize their sexuality well before they're ready to assume the consequences. Parents, particularly mothers, are finding themselves in awkward situations with subjects that are difficult to broach.

The Montreal YWCA has come up with an interactive resource, EARLY SEXUALIZATION: A Guide for Parents of Preteen Girls, to help parents tackle some of the more difficult questions their daughters might have regarding provocative clothing, ultra-thin models, make-up, seduction and music videos, love and respect, sexuality and peer pressure and Internet safety. This animated guide provides parents with three possible (and realistic) answers they might give to their preteen daughters in response to some tricky questions regarding sexuality. (Warning: This resource is not for children.)

In addition to working in partnership with the University of Quebec (Montreal) on creating the “Countering Youth Hypersexualization: Tools for Prevention and Action,” the Montreal YWCA has also partnered with the National Film Board of Canada to produce Sexy Inc.: Our Children Under Influence, a 35-minute film that analyzes the hypersexualization of our environment and its noxious effects on the young, both girls and boys.

I bought a copy of the film, which came with a guide for educators and parents, and viewed it this weekend. The film looks at the effects of hypersexualization on children who are bombarded with sexually explicit and sexist images, and the unhealthy culture they create. It also offers some suggestions about what we can do to counteract this phenomenon.

Although my daughter is only six, I'm glad that I took the time to look into this and find some resources. I also came across another invaluable resource for increasing our media awareness vis a vis stereotyping, sexism, bullying, hate etc. If you're interested click here to go to the Media Awareness Network.


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