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Diane Levin is an internationally recognized expert in helping professionals and parents understand and deal with the effects of violence, media and commercial culture on children. Read more »
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Helen recently wrote asking me for help dealing with the aftermath of the "High School Musical" birthday party her 5-year-old daughter had recently attended. At the party, the girls dressed up in fancy clothes and were taught how to do a special [i.e., sexy] dance by the high school-aged cousin of the birthday girl. After the HS Musical cake, the girls broke the HS Musical piñata to get their party favors -- temporary tattoos of the film's characters. The children did a special performance of the HS Musical dance when parents arrived to pick them up.
Helen's daughter loved the party and quickly started pleading to see the HS Musical movies. On a recent trip to a mass market store, her daughter kept pointing to the movie's products and got especially excited about the padded bra and bikini underpants set "in her size!" And she continued to practice her HS Musical dance both at home and in public places like the mall.
Helen puts it very well when she writes: "Isn't having HS Musical parties for 5-year-olds telling them loud and clear that the real film and products are for them? Doesn't it lure them into an interest in the real HS Musical thing that isn't appropriate for them?" She said she felt trapped as soon as the invitation to the party arrived and what happened afterward confirmed her concern. Should she have prevented her daughter from going to her friend's party? What should she do now that the floodgates have opened for a whole new set of stressors in the family?
Parents like Helen are increasingly coming to me to ask for help dealing with how they see today's sexualized environment affecting their children. The clothes they wear, toys they play with, and media they watch are part of an environment that uses sexiness (and violence for boys) to capture children's attention and get them to want to buy, buy, buy in order to be pretty and sexy. From a very young age, it is teaching harmful lessons about what it means to be a girl, objectifying relationships, and making it harder and harder for parents to do their job.
Jean Kilbourne and I wrote So Sexy So Soon to help parents protect their children from the new sexualized childhood as well as influence the lessons they are learning from it. Despite the fact that parents are often told "just saying 'no'" will solve the problem, we know that a very different approach is needed. Children desperately need the help of caring adults to work out an understanding of what they see, rather than being left to their own devices to figure things out.
Here are a few examples of the strategies we elaborate on in the book that help parents work with (rather than against) their children in positive and meaningful ways:
Have you dealt with an issue related to the sexualization of childhood with your child? What did you do? How did it work?
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