The New Hyper-Sexualized Childhood
By Caron C. Andrews
This is part of a series on the trend of hyper-sexualization in childhood.
Not long ago, childhood in America was a time of innocence and fun. Children were protected from adult concerns by firm boundaries. But at no other time in history has it been the focus of the targeted, sexualized, and stereotyped messages that it is today. The change is alarming and damaging to whole new generations.
Toys & Games
Children’s toys and games have radically shifted recently to emphasize gender stereotypes, sex, and violence (Olfman, 2008). Marketers understand that saturating commercials with either sex or violence is a very effective way to sell, even to young ages, and children are bombarded, leaving lasting images in their minds. For example, Bratz dolls, extremely popular several years ago, have sexually provocative features and skimpy clothing (Levin, D. E., & Kilbourne, J., 2008, p. 31). The focus is clearly on appearance and sexiness, and these products are only a few examples. This teaches girls that their worth is inextricably connected to their looks and sexual appeal to boys and men. This leaves no room for individuality, character, or respect.
Similarly, gender-stereotypical toys and products are marketed to boys using violence as the lure. Seeing so much repeated violence interferes with boys’ natural ability to develop into loving, connected human beings who have caring relationships, including future sexual relationships (Levin, D. E., & Kilbourne, J., 2008, p. 33). This gender stereotyping keeps the focus on being macho, always prepared to fight, and unemotional (Levin, D. E., & Kilbourne, J., 2008, pg. 41).
The pervasiveness of sexual and violent messages is astounding. This constant saturation of sexual and violent images, while highly effective in selling products, is confusing and scary to young children, who are incapable of understanding and processing their meaning. And as girls and boys see each other’s focus on sexiness and violence, they learn inaccurate lessons about themselves and their gender, and about relationships between females and males (Levin, D. E., & Kilbourne, J., 2008, p. 33). In short, it gets in the way of them developing a healthy sexuality.
One of the devastating effects of marketing to kids is that it teaches children that their worth is not related to their abilities and who they are as a person, but to projecting the “right” image with the “right” products (Levin, D. E.). Additionally, “we are creating a generation of super-sexualized children”, as young children are showing more of an increase in sexual interest and behavior than ever before (Kaeser, F., 2011).
Can something as superficial as toys really be affecting the very psyche of the newest generations of kids? Will the innocent childhood enjoyed by generations past ever be seen in our culture again? There are clearly no simple answers. Becoming aware of the problem is a great beginning. Pondering and studying the facts about these questions will give us the knowledge and power we need as consumers, parents, and human beings to protect ourselves and our children from the onslaught.
Coming soon in this series: Taking action to protect your child against an hyper-sexualized childhood.
Check out our books 30 Days of Sex Talks for awesome conversation starters about this and other sometimes-difficult subjects!
Kaeser, F., (2011, September) What Your Child Needs to Know About Sex (And When), Psychologytoday.com. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-your-child-needs-know-about-sex-and-when/201109/the-super-sexualization-children-time-take
Sexualized Childhood on Young Children. Nayec.org. Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/files/tyc/file/TYC_V3N1_Levin.pdf
Levin, D. E., and Kilbourne, J. (2008). So sexy so soon: the new sexualized childhood and what parents can do to protect their kids. New York: Ballantine Books.
Olfman, S. (2008, November). Growing Older Younger/Growing Younger Older. The center for counseling arts. Retrieved from http://www.thecenterforcounselingarts.com/sexualizationofchildhood.html