In our society children are exposed to so much more than we were or than they should be. Because of the nature of our society children see things on television and in other media forms that encourages little girls to strive to be sexy and little boys to be muscular and attractive and it gives them the wrong understanding of gender and sexuality. An example of this I have personal experienced is a particular student in my class. She is a second grader (I teach a 1/2 split class this year) who has developed quicker than every other girl in second grade. She wears a bra and just got her period for the first time. She dresses too inappropriate for a 8 year old. One day I had to send her to the nurse to get a shirt because she was wearing a tube-top. Another example of exposure to a highly sexualized environment happened just last week. A student of mine had told a boy in our class that eh could kiss her if he wanted. So he did-on her cheek. I had a discussion with her about this and asked why she said this to him and she said that she saw it on television. The third example is a situation with the same little girl just a few days ago. I called my group to the carpet for math and upon looking around the carpet to see if everyone was sitting on their own square, I noticed this little girl was not in her correct square and in fact she was sitting next to a little boy and she had her hand in his lap caressing his thigh. When I called her name to get her attention she said, “I was just telling him to crisscross his legs!” I moved her seat and ended up sending her to speak to the guidance counselor about this behavior.
There are a number of implications this may have on children’s development. Children are being forced to grow up too young and way before they are ready because the mainstream media is pushing sex on them. Children growing up today are bombarded from a very early age with graphic messages about sex and
sexiness in the media and popular culture (Levin & Kilbourne, 2009). Children are paying an enormous price for the sexualization of their childhood. Girls and boys constantly encounter sexual messages and images that they cannot understand and that can confuse and even frighten them. Gender roles modeled for children have become increasingly polarized and rigid. A narrow definition of femininity and sexuality encourages girls to focus heavily on appearance and sex appeal. They learn at a very young age that their value is determined by how beautiful, thin, “hot,” and sexy they are. And boys, who get a very narrow definition of masculinity that promotes insensitivity and macho behavior, are taught to judge girls based on how close they come to an artificial, impossible, and shallow ideal (Levin & Kilbourne, 2009). Both boys and girls are routinely exposed to images of sexual behavior devoid of emotions, attachment, or consequences. They learn that sex is the defining activity in relationships, to the exclusion of love and friendship. They learn that sex is often linked to violence. And they learn to associate physical appearance and buying the right products not only with being sexy but also with being successful as a person. Such lessons will shape their gender identity, sexual attitudes, and values, and their capacity for relationships,for love and connection, that they take into adulthood. While they struggle to make sense of all this, children are robbed of valuable time for age-appropriate developmental tasks, and they may begin to engage in precocious sexual behavior (Levin & Kilbourne, 2009).
I am more aware of the implications of the sexualization of early childhood now that I have studied this topic. Children have always been curious about sex and sexuality from an early age, and it is good for parents and schools to give them honest and age-appropriate information. But what children are learning today isn’t normal or good for them. We are alarmed by the particular lessons that children are learning. The sexualization of childhood is having a profoundly disturbing impact on children’s understanding of gender, sexuality, and relationships (Levin & Kilbourne, 2009).
Levin, D. E., & Kilbourne, J. (2009). [Introduction]. So sexy so soon: The new sexualized childhood and what parents can do to protect their kids (pp. 1-8). New York: Ballantine Books. Retrieved from: http://dianeelevin.com/sosexysosoon/introduction.pdf