Is Your Teen On the Path to Early Pregnancy? What Research Tells Parents

Parent Alert: What a Recent Study About Teen Pregnancy Reveals


By Dr. Robyn Silverman

It’s not hard to believe. We saw it with Jamie Lynn Spears in the news. We saw it with American Pie (among many others) in the movies. And yes, we see it on TV. A study, published today, found that those teens and preteens who watch a lot of TV programs that feature flirting, necking, obvious sex scenes, and sex talk are much more likely than their peers who do not watch such programs to get pregnant or to get their partner pregnant.

There has been a recent surge of concern over teen pregnancy because after a steady decline over the last few decades, the number is creeping up again. Why is this happening? As we’ve discussed, girls have admitted that they’re feeling pressure to grow up too soon. Sexual messages abound. While TV and sexual content in teen programs can’t entirely be blamed, it seems to be playing a significant role. Parents beware.

The National Institutes of Health reported in July that teen pregnancies rose in the United States from 2005 to 2006 for the first time since 1991.

What was the study? This was the first study to link programs featuring TV sex scenes and TV sex talk to teen pregnancy. Those teens and preteens who watched the most TV featuring sexual content were twice as likely to be involved in a pregnancy than their peers who watched the least amount of such TV programs.

“Sexual content on television has doubled in the last few years, especially during the period of our research,” (Anita Chandra, lead researcher, Rand Corp)

Who was involved in the study? The researchers surveyed more than 2000 teens between 2001 and 2004 to gather information on their behavior, demographics, and TV viewing habits. Over 700 sexually active preteens and teens between the ages of 12 and 17 years old were tracked for 3 years.

“Watching this kind of sexual content on television is a powerful factor in increasing the likelihood of a teen pregnancy. We found a strong association.” (Anita Chandra, lead researcher)

What were they looking for? They were analyzing how often the teens saw TV characters engaging in sexual conduct or discussing sexual conduct on 23 shows in the 2000-2001 TV watching season.

Where and when was it published? The study is being published today in the well regarded journal of Pediatrics which is the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

What were some of the shows watched? Shows fell into the genres of dramas, comedies, reality shows and even animated programs. Among the shows the preteens and teens admitted watching were “Friends,” “Sex and the City,” and “That ’70s Show.” Chandra would not identify the others but stressed that they included

The stats:

Ø About 25 percent of those preteens or teens who watched the most sexually explicit shows were involved in a pregnancy, compared with about 12 percent of those who watched the least.

Ø In the study, 58 of girls reported getting pregnant and 33 boys reported getting a girl pregnant. The risk of pregnancy increased whether or not the teens and preteens watched only 1 or 2 sexually explicit shows or channel surfed many chows that had occasional sexual content

What can parents do?

Ø Educate yourself: Learn about the shows your children and teens are watching.

Ø Limit exposure: Media is everywhere. If you can limit your children’s exposure to sexually explicit media, you’re likely being a help to your children and teens.

Ø Discuss Consequences: Many TV shows don’t do a good job of detailing the consequences of sexual activity. Talk about pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and other consequences with your kids so they fully understand.

Ø Allow them to ask questions: If you aren’t around to answer, they may get their answers from somewhere else—and they might just be the wrong answers.

What people are saying:

Ø Abstinence Programming: According to Valerie Huber, a representative of the National Abstinence Education Association, “we need to encourage schools to make abstinence-centered programs a priority.” After all, “We have a highly sexualized culture that glamorizes sex.”

Ø More Sex Ed: According to James Wagoner of Advocates for Youth, “This finding underscores the importance of evidence-based sex education that helps young people delay sex and use prevention when they become sexually active. The absolutely last thing we should do in response is bury our heads in the sand and promote failed abstinence-only programs.”

Ø Connection may not be real: According to Laura Lindberg of the Guttmacher Institute, “It may be the kids who have an interest in sex watch shows with sexual content. I’m concerned this makes it seem like if we just shut off the TV we’d dramatically reduce the teen pregnancy rate.”

With whom do you agree? What do you think is the answer? Teaching abstinence to teens and preteens? More sex ed in the schools? Shutting off the TV? More conversations at home after watching such shows together? More character education?

Please offer your solutions, concerns, comments, and question below. We want to hear what you have to say!

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Grow up! 5 Ways We’re Treating Our Children Like Adults

Growing up too soon?

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silvermen

I’m sensing a very frustrating trend here. Children just can’t seem to be children much anymore. We tell them that we don’t want them to grow up too soon and yet, we’re treating them like little adults! I mean, are we serious? Why not just give them a briefcase and send them off to work too?

Let me take you on a short, but disturbing trip…

Inside, like adults: Remember when our parents would tell us to go outside and play?  As you probably remember, a recent study found that children were being banned from the playground and made to stay inside during the school day due to wearing the wrong shoes, too much messy mulch near the playground, no coat, or talkative or texting teachers who can’t be bothered to supervise. Children need outside play for physical, social, and cognitive development as well as to get in touch with nature (which is vital to help them have a sensitivity and connection to mother earth). So much for imagination…sometimes children just need to get away from plastic, electronics and rubber, don’t you think?

“Today’s 5-year-olds were acting at the level of 3-year-olds 60 years ago, and today’s 7-year-olds were barely approaching the level of a 5-year-old 60 years ago,” says Elena Bodrova at Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning

Gym-goers, like adults: On that same topic, the Washington Post just covered a story yesterday that shows that children are now hitting the gym instead of playing outside. Come on. Hitting the gym? What happened to monkey bars, swimming, martial arts and hopscotch? Can you imagine how bored they’ll be by the time they have to make “going to the gym” a habit as an adults? Yawn Yawn. Think it’s not happening all that much? According to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, last year, 1.3 million children between the ages of 6 to 11 were members of a health club. Sad.  Just sad.

“It may sound like a grown up routine, but many parents are enrolling their children in fitness centers or buying child-sized equipment for a workout more grueling than ballet or Little League but cheaper than hiring a personal trainer.”

Medicated, like adults: Many of us have been very upset by the news featured in my article “Tots Popping Pills”  that the American Academy of Pediatrics started recommended the adult drug “statins” to “at-risk” children as young as 8 years old in order to lower high cholesterol levels. Besides the fact that this option provides another push-button solution in a fast-paced, sedentary world, there are no long term studies done on the effects of these drugs on children. These children could be on these drugs for the rest of their life…should they be?

“Children’s bodies are very different in how they metabolize or handle drugs…Their livers are different, their kidneys are different. In many cases it’s about the same if they’re taking Tylenol or asthma medication. But for other drugs like statins that might have some impact on their endocrine system, we just really don’t know. I, for one, feel unsafe simply saying children are little adults in this case.” Dr. Darshak Sanghavi, a pediatric cardiologist at the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine

Waxed, plucked, and primped, like adults: Many Mommies bond with their daughters over a little sparkly pink nail polish. We’re now dealing with a whole new ball of wax…literally. Among some of the most disturbing “grow-up” tactics, is the waxing, plucking, and primping of little girls. The New York Post told us just a month ago that “the newest trend in pre-tween preening is a wax job, with girls as young as 6 years old removing whatever hair they have – or don’t have – from their legs and armpits.’ Squirming in your chairs? Yes, me too.

“In 10 years,” predicts Stawczyk, “waxing children will be like taking them to the dentist or putting braces on their teeth.”

Fed, like adults: Who do these restaurant chains think they’re kidding? They call them “kids meals” but are serving enough for a full grown man. We talked recently about how Fast Food Flops for Tots and the recent study which shows 90% of children’s “kid’s meals” at 13 major fast-food and restaurant chains are too high in calories for kids. We know that fast food can be a lifesaver– especially for families who have a lot of kids— but what are we feeding them? Men’s Health put out a surprisingly good article this month (my husband gets the magazine and showed it to me), written by it’s editor and author of Eat This Not That, about what kids are really being served at their favorite restaurant chains. Just as an example, according to the article, while an active 8 year old boy should eat about 1,600 calories per day, a single kid’s meal of “Chili’s Pepper Pals Country Fried Chicken Crispers with Ranch Dressing and Homestyle Fries” will pack over 70% of his daily calories into one, seemingly innocent kid’s meal (1,110 calories, 82 grams of fat- 15 grams saturated, 56 grams of carbs, and HolyMoly 1,980 mg of sodium). Yum yum.

“An Oscar Mayar Lunchable can have more sugar than four peanut butter cups.

SO…is it really better to be “like mother, like daughter” and “like father, like son?”

Please weigh in. I’m going to go bang my head against the wall.

Note: This article featured on radio show, Bigg Success 10/10/08 here

Girls Feel Pressure to Grow Up Too Fast, Study Says

Girls Feel Anxiety about Pressure to Fast-Track Their Development

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

Between the magazine articles telling girls to lose weight, glossies telling her that she’ll never measure up , young celebrities withering away along with their clothes, models getting thinner and thinner, and the massive pressures in school and among friends to look the best, a generation of girls are being affected. Poor body image, poor body esteem, mental health issues, and low self worth abound.

Negative messages are everywhere. Even our daughter’s clothes and favorite dolls and toys are getting a boost, a lift, a pout, and a “push” to grow up sooner and sexier than ever before. Some, you just have to wonder, are the retailers kidding?

So who could be surprised that girls are showing some wear and tear from today’s sexualized, body-bashing culture? A recent study out of the UK reveals that the pressure to grow up too soon is one the greatest influences on girls’ well being, according to the girls themselves! The pressure to wear clothes that make them look older, entertain sexual advances from boys, lose weight according to the directions in the media, and even consider plastic surgery to “improve looks” were identified as pressures that were particularly damaging.

One participant explained: “When I was eleven I read a teenage magazine for the first time and that is when it kind of clicked, ‘I should be like this.’”

Here’s the scoop:

Who was studied? Girls between the ages of 10 and 14 years old. Qualitative (descriptive) information was collected through focus groups consisting of 54 girls, divided by age. Quantitative (the numbers and percents) data were collected through polls online, in which 350 girls participated.

By Whom: Girlguiding UK, the Mental Health Foundation, and leading researchers Opinion Leader.

What was studied? The report considers a new generation of potential triggers for mental health problems in girls – premature sexualization, commercialization and alcohol misuse – and also some of the more longstanding issues like bullying and family breakdown. It examines the impact of such factors on girls’ feelings and behavior at home and in their communities, and asks young women themselves what might be done to help.

What did they find?

§ Mental Health Issues: Many girls reported that they had direct experience with friends and people who they knew who were suffering from some kind of mental health problem.

o Two-fifths know someone who has self-harmed

o One third of the girls have a friend who has suffered from an eating disorder

o Half new girls who were suffering from depression

o Almost two in five had friends who had experienced panic attacks.

o Many girls felt strongly that self-harm was within the spectrum of normal teenage behavior – as long as it happened infrequently– and was not necessarily an indication of a mental health issue.

o A sixth of those surveyed often feel angry

o Half admit they find anger hard to manage.

o Around a quarter often worry (28%) and feel like no-one understands them (25%) while around half find both emotions hard to handle.

§ Gotta Have It! Increased pressure to have money for the latest electronics and clothes means pressure for the girls.

o One-in-five girls report feeling anger and sadness

o A quarter of the girls feel worried or bad about themselves.

§ Fodder for Bullies? Girls felt that the growing check-list of “ideals” for young girls was giving bullies additional excuses to single them out – leading to stress, unhappiness and anxiety.

As one girl admitted: “If I get bored then I start becoming really aggressive.”

§ Is my body OK? Media is a major culprit.

o Looking at pictures of models, pop-stars and actresses makes a fifth feel sad, two-fifths feel bad about themselves and 12 per cent feel angry.

o Media stories that portray young people in a bad light make half the girls who took part angry (50 per cent), a quarter worried (23 per cent) and almost two-fifths sad.

· Read the full study: A Generation Under Stress

Study after study is showing that girls are under stress…and duress in their normal, everyday lives. Yet, our culture continues to churn out manufactured, thinned-out celebrities, sexualized play-things, inappropriate clothes, and media to deliver the 1-2 punch.

Now, more than ever, it’s vital that we provide our girls with positive role models, positive body messages, and positive activities and powerful environments that show them they are so much more than a 2-dimensional object there to be critiqued, criticized, and put-down.

What are your thoughts on this recent study? Any ideas with regard to what to do next? Yes, we need these girls to have a pivotal moment when they know they’re worthwhile—but even more than that—we need to promote positive development in these girls from the start so that this problem is markedly reduced in the first place. Otherwise, we are simply averting our eyes…aren’t we? I mean, how bad does it have to get before we pay attention?

Here’s to Making Our Girls Feel and Become Powerful–

Makeover Madness for Children’s Cartoons? Less belly fat, more muscles, and a cell phone

It appears that our yesterday’s favorite cartoon characters are getting extreme makeovers to cater to the modern tastes of today’s kids. According to the New York Times, these classic characters are being “freshened up” in order to add upward momentum to the rough sloping economy.

Apparently, the YouTube generation is interested in less belly fat and more muscles. Less “cutesy” and more streamline. Fewer calories and more cell phones. Seriously. What ever happened to nostalgia for days when we didn’t need to think about all that stuff?

Impossibly thin waists and the buff bods have been popular among fairy princesses and hulky princes, respectively, but how about the Care-bears and Little Miss Shortcake?

Strawberry Shortcake went under the figurative knife and was revealed this past Tuesday. Labeled a “fruit-forward” makeover, she was stripped of her bloomers, went on a diet (no more sweets, more fruit!), put down her cat, and picked up a cell phone. No more freckles and of course, more pink—now her signature color in place of her customary red. She looks a lot more “little mermaid” than “strawberry sweetie” from yesteryear.

Toys and toons aimed at boys are also getting a little nip-tuck. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are loosing a bit of their ‘tude and gaining more muscles. Think—turtles on steroids.

Other nostalgic characters getting a face—and body-lift? Bugs bunny, Scoobie Doo, and the Care bears, the latter getting a little lipo to loose the belly fat and eyelash extensions to enhance the eyes.

The companies are trying to appeal to the kids without going too far—attempting to stay away from the hypersexualized and increasingly violent media landscape ever-present today. Even Mickey Mouse will be getting into the action.

Companies like Disney are giving nostalgic characters an update in an attempt to appeal to both modern kids and today’s parents–parents who are trying to protect their youngsters from seeing too much, considering the recent Miley Cyrus exposure and other young stars who are becoming less predictable and more out of control. Not to mention other brands that have gone way to far towards sexualizing the most mundane toys to appeal to Paris-Hilton-like children such as the Disney HorsesStrutz (for girls who are on the cutting edge of what’s hot in fashion)

They’re also wary of changing their brand too much or sending out items that parents don’t like as Mattel did in 1993 when they spruced up the classic Ken doll with a poorly chosen purple mesh T-shirt, leather vest, earring, and high-lighted coif. Warner Brothers made a similar marketing mistake when they revamped Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck in 2005, full with mohawks and crazy eyes in the series “Lunatics.”

Are cartoon portrayals such a big deal?

According to numerous studies, it may be.

“the depictions about gender roles seen by children could impact and interact with both the expectations they develop about relationships and appropriate behavior, and their future life decisions. It is important to keep in mind, too, that the concern about stereotyping is not less severe because these are cartoons and not “real life.” Although this issue has not been definitely settled by research, several studies have indicated that young children accept fantasy as reality and cannot always distinguish well between the two. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research by Thompson et al.

WEIGH IN

What do you think? Is it a good thing for these toy and cartoon companies to reflect a more streamline, beauty-oriented, techno-culture in our children’s cartoons or should they be leaving things the way they are? Are cartoons getting too sexed up for the kids or are people making too much of a big deal about the whole thing?

Please comment below!

Looking forward to hearing your opinions.

Photo credits: New York Times, Google, Strutz Site, TOFC, themanbehindtheearring.com, wikipedia

Disney Princesses Sexualizing Your Daughters? Dr. Robyn Responds

It can be difficult to cope when it seems that our children are growing up too soon. Parents often have a love-hate relationship with much of the media when it comes to their children. Especially their daughters. On the one hand you have the hypersexualization of women and girls in music videos, magazines, internet games and advertisements, and on the other hand you have the classics we all used to love—like Sesame Street and Disney. But as adults, even are old favorites sometimes get on our nerves. Yes, as parents, we have a new perspective.

The following article is a guest post from Vicki, a parent, just like you, who just wants what’s best for her child. As Powerful Parents who know the importance of character education and values discussions in families, we’d love to hear your perspective. You can read her article as well as my response to her regarding at least some ways that she can deal with her frustrations with the Disney Princesses and Barbie, who have clearly gotten on her last nerve.

The Princesses Are Sexualizing My Daughter

Reagan has been “into” the Disney Princesses for years now. INTO them. She’s got reading books, coloring books, sticker books, puzzles, dress-up clothes, regular clothes, CDs, movies, toys, dolls, you name it she’s had one with a princess somewhere on it. We even went to Disney World in conjunction with her sixth birthday so she could enjoy meeting the princesses while she was still in that phase.

There was a time when we tried to ban the princesses. It was a couple years ago and we were idealistic thinking that if we told everyone that we weren’t “doing” the princesses that they would stop giving her things with princesses on them. That did not work. And the ban seemed to deepen her interest. Funny how that works. We couldn’t really express why we were banning them. That would lead to more questions.

“Why can’t I have that Princess coloring book?”
“Because we don’t do Princesses?”
“Why don’t we do Princesses?”
“Because they promote the wrong image?”
“What’s an image?” “What’s promote?” “Why don’t we do Princesses?”
“Here’s the coloring book.”

That’s not how it would end. She wouldn’t get the coloring book. But eventually we gave in and she did start acquiring that stuff again. At some time we thought we could counteract the Princesses. We introduced her to Veggie Tales, Dora, Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears, Hello Kitty (I will never understand why someone finds princesses better than Hello Kitty. She is the best. The. End.), and many other characters. Her desire was always for the Princesses.

Now she knows practically everything about them. What is starting to bother me is that she’s starting to emulate them. Wanting to be more like them. For a while when she would put on a nightgown with a stretchy neck, she’d pull it off one shoulder and walk around with her head tilted towards that shoulder. And look at us with batting eyes. I would promptly ask her to

“Cover your shoulder, girls don’t dress like that.”
“So and so Princess does.”
“You’re not So and so Princess.”

We could live with that because there ain’t no way she’s exiting the house while under my supervision with a shoulder bare like that (visualize me doing the three snap). Unless she’s got a part in some 80s theater production and has on a super baggy sweatshirt and some type of covering underneath.

BUT NOW!!! THE REASON I’M BABBLING ON!!! Just the other night, after her dance recital, she had a friend spend the night. They were getting ready for bed in the bathroom and this is what I heard:

Reagan: “Do you know who my boyfriend is?”
Friend: “Who?”
R: “E****. It used to be S****, and then P****, but now it’s E****.”
F: Crickets
R: “I’d so kiss him. I really would. I really would kiss him.”

WHAT!!??!!??!!?? Where is she getting this stuff from?!?!? It took a couple of days to process. It’s from the freaking Princess characters. And Barbie, she’s not off the hook either. They all are lost in some way. They all need to be saved. They all find their knight in shining armor (or however he may be dressed). And they all kiss in the end with that stupid look of love between them. And what I’m just beginning to realize is this:

You can’t really tell how old the princesses are can you!?!? Or Barbie…

NO, you can’t. The only one, I believe, who mentions her age is Ariel. Disobeying her father at a ripe old age of 16. All of these Princesses look young and girls can totally see themselves playing the part. In fact, mentally picturing all of them, I couldn’t place an age on any of them. Heck, I could see myself playing the part. Girls are learning, ever so subtly, that at their young age they should be finding their one true love and kissing them and getting married.

I don’t think Reagan knows what she means when she says that she really would kiss this boy. She sees Mommy and Daddy kiss and hug, mind you not enough, but I doubt she actually has the moxie to go up and kiss a boy that she doesn’t even have the guts to tell that he’s her boyfriend. How do I know that? Sunday School. You know, the place they’re supposed to go and learn about Jesus? Reagan told a friend that E**** was her boyfriend. So this girl marches right up to him and tells him. His reaction. Nothing. I’m so glad.

So, what’s a Mom and Dad to do? We’re so deep into Princesses and Barbie. Will nightly conversations about this remedy the situation? Will banning the stuff with zero tolerance starting now work? Where is Dr. Dobson when you want to have a heart to heart with him right on the living room sofa? Pray for us please. And seriously, give suggestions.

Dear Vicki,

It’s frustrating to raise girls when media keeps telling them that they need to look a certain way in order to get attention. The Disney princess enterprise keeps growing, it’s not going anywhere, and it’s certainly something that many parents must deal with everyday.

I’ve got several ideas but let’s start here.

  • Ask her about them: What does she loves about the princesses? You may be surprised. There are always things we like and dislike about friends and other people in our lives– but we don’t shut them out even if we don’t agree with them. Perhaps what she likes about them could be something that you like about them to…which leads me to my next tip…
  • Go Positive: Take the Powerful Words approach and build from the positive side. Find something that you like about those princesses– do they have determination and go after something they really want? Do they have goals and dreams? Do they have nice singing voices? Do they show that they’re good friends to their friends? Are they kind? Grateful? Giving? Start focusing on the positive. Praise what you like.
  • Cite the Negative: You can also be very straightforward about what you don’t like about them so that your daughter is clear about your values. In the spirit of “honesty” month, be clear yet age appropriate. Is it their style of dress? Their choices? Their “pinkness?” We want our daughters to get out of the habit of thinking that girls can only look, act, and be one way. Let them know what bothers you and keep it simple.
  • Model What You Want to See: As you know, since I write a character curriculum and advise parents on instilling values in their children, I often talk about modeling and discussing what you would like to see in your children. Your example is stronger than any 2-dimensional character could ever be.
  • Expose Her to Fabulous 3-D Role Models: Have some great friends or local heroes that really show your daughter what a girl can become? Allow your daughter to have “tea” or lunch with them. The more we can expose our girls to powerful, positive women and teens, the more they will see that reality is much better than fantasy.
  • Get Her Into A Positive Activity: Challenge the stereotypes and ensure that your daughter is involved in activities that isn’t all pink and frills. Choose sports that make her feel powerful. Perhaps a martial arts, power tumbling or modern dance class would bring out a different side of her. Any of the Powerful Words Member Schools will also ensure that she’s learning strong character development—not just the physical—which will get her to thrive from the inside out.

If she knows what you like and what you don’t like, is challenging the stereotypes, and is exposed to powerful, positive women, you might be surprised the next time you pass by the bathroom filled with girls– she may just say something like “I like that she’s good to her friends but she doesn’t always make the best choices.”

Let me know how it goes.

Other articles or cites that deal with similar media topics:

Girls Media Maven

Corporate Babysitter:

Final Call

Packaging Girlhood

Shaping Youth

Beyonce’s Sesame Street Walkers: Bootylicious Babes or Pimped Out Preemies?

Welcome to “Girls Gone Wild,” Little Tykes Addition. These ads featuring Dereon Girls clothes might provide a momentary laugh if they came out of an old “dress-up box” or if the girls were doing a mock “Pussy Cat Dolls presents Girlicious” audition. But the idea that they’re aimed for public view is alarming.

Still raw from the Miley Cyrus Mess, people are weighing in and they’re not happy with what they’re seeing.

According to New York Post’s Michelle Malkin,

If you thought the soft-porn image of Disney teen queen Miley Cyrus – wearing nothing but ruby-stained lips and a bedsheet – in Vanity Fair magazine was disturbing, you ain’t seen nothing yet. [The young models] are seductively posed and tarted up, JonBenet Ramsey-style, with lipstick, blush and face powder…The creepiness factor is heightened by the fact that women were responsible for marketing this child exploitation. So, what’s next? Nine-year-olds performing stripper routines?

So why are these sexualized images such a problem?

Media, such as magazine ads, TV, video games, and music videos can have a detrimental effect on children.

Not only has the sexualization of girls and women in the media lead to mounting public concern, researchers continue to find that the images (and sexual objectification) can have a profound affect on the confidence, body image, dieting behaviors, emotional wellbeing and sexual development of girls. Dr Eileen Zurbriggen, associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz and the chair of the APA task force on the sexualization of girls is scrutinizing these issues;

“The consequences of the sexualisation of girls in media today are very real,” said “We have ample evidence to conclude that sexualisation has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, and healthy sexual development.”

What do they mean by sexualization?

When researchers speak of sexualization, they’re referring to when a person’s value come from their sexual appeal (looks) or their sexual behavior and when the person is looked upon as a sexual object, to the exclusion of other characteristics such as character, intelligence, and ability.

Examples:

  • Dolls with pouty lips, mini-skirts, and fish-net stockings aimed at the 4-8 year old market place
  • Thongs marked for young girls ages 7 to 10 years old (some printed with slogans like “eye candy” and “wink wink” on them).
  • Young pop-stars and celebrities dressed provocatively or inappropriately
  • Video games with sexualized images like “Miss Bimbo
  • Cartoon-clad thongs for teens

But are children and teens really that impressionable?

While there hasn’t been a body of work that directly links sexualized images in ads and electronic media to problems in girls, individual studies strongly suggest that a link may be evident when it comes to media and eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression in girls. For example;

  • Adolescent girls who frequently read magazine articles that featured articles about dieting were more likely five years later to engage in extreme weight-loss practices such as vomiting than girls who never read such articles.
  • Middle school girls who read articles about dieting (compared to those who did not read such articles) were twice as likely to try to lose weight 5 years later by fasting or smoking cigarettes. These girls were also three times more likely to use extreme weight loss practices such as taking laxatives or vomiting to lose weight.
  • The average person sees between 400-600 ads per day
  • About 7 of 10 girls say that they want to look like a character on TV
  • After just 10 minutes of exposure, the researchers found that the groups that had watched the music videos with the thin, attractive stars, exhibited the largest increase in body dissatisfaction in comparison to those who simply listed to the songs of completed the memory task with the neutral words. In addition, and perhaps the most troubling, it did not matter whether the girls had high or low self esteem to begin with—they were all equally affected.
  • About 41% of teen girls report that magazines are their most important source of information with regard to dieting and health and 61% of teen girls read at least one fashion magazine often.

But here’s the real deal:

Be vigilant about the media that’s delivered through your mail slot. Be conscious about the messages that are conveyed in your living room. If you don’t like what you see:

(1) Don’t buy it: Beyonce may make the clothes but you make the decisions. Only you can determine what comes through your doors from the mall and what goes out your door to school.

(2) Shut it off: No; you can’t be with your child at all times but it’s important to supervise the media flow into your household. There are plenty of parental locks and internet blocks that can put your in control.

(3) Talk about it: Let your child know your values and why you don’t think what the ads are portraying is a smart choice for her or your family.

(4) Ask questions: You may be surprised by your child’s view of the media. They may be more savvy than you think. Ask what she thinks about what she’s seeing—be present—and listen.

(5) Expose her to positive images: There are several positive role models in the media. However, don’t put all your eggs in one basket (we saw what happened with Miley and Jamie Lynn Spears). Open up your children’s world to actual living, breathing, 3-Dimentional role models in your community so that they can be inspired by something well beyond what they see on TV or in clothing ads.

Some decision-makers might be making fools of themselves by “pimping out” little girls in ads or draping a 15 year old tween queen in a sheet and sending it out to print, but you’re still the parent. Continue to instill values in your young children and they’ll be more likely to focus their attention away from these tween tarts and dolls gone wild and towards more appropriate activities; like playing dress up and watching Sesame Street.