The sexualisation of girlhood is currently a huge concern. Ten is the new fifteen and eight is the new thirteen. Girls are dressing and acting older than ever before. They move from toys to boys in the blink of an eye. Not only are girls worried about how they look and dress at an early age many are concerned about their body image, which makes them susceptible to dieting and watching weight in a way that children shouldn’t have to.
Children are certainly moving into puberty earlier in a physical sense. A startling 16% of girls in the UK begin puberty at eight years of age. They also seem to be growing up quicker than ever in a social and behavioural sense. The concern is that girls look like they are ready for anything at twelve when in fact, they are still children emotionally and socially.
Girls have always enjoyed dressing up in their mother’s clothes but they used to put them back in their mother’s wardrobes after playing dress-ups. Now many girls are wearing adult-like clothes all the time.
The sexualisation of girlhood is further evidence that lines between adulthood and childhood is becoming increasingly blurred. Many children currently dress like adults and have adult-like accessories such as mobiles and MP3 players. Nearly 50 per cent of children’s parties have some part outsourced to a professional so it seems that even their parties are adult-like.
Children appear to be picking up adult worries as well as their perks. Recent research shows that fear of cancer, terrorism and being a victim of crime are now major concerns for many ten year olds.
The sexualisation of girlhood has occurred for a number of reasons. Television programs and music videos are two areas where sexual images that verge on soft porn are openly available for children to watch. Combined with girls’ propensity to put enormous social pressure on each other to conform, seductive media images of adolescence can be hard to resist.
Children pester their parents to purchase the clothes and accessories they want. Marketers have identified the following groups of parents that are particularly susceptible– “indulgers”, “children’s friends” and “guilty parents”. Children know if they put enough pressure on parents they will wilt. Combined with the fact that many parents are unsure of their place in the parent-child relationship then parents are fair game to girls’ persuasive ways.
What to do:
1. Parents it seems need to give their daughters firm guidance about appropriate clothing for children. If you can’t be firm with an eight year old then it will be how really hard work when your daughter turns 14 and really becomes persuasive.
2. Adults can help girls to be children and enjoy their childhood activities rather than adolescent type activities. Girls are often conflicted. They have an internal battle between the child and emergent teen. Let the child win out at home. It helps if their parents, particularly their mothers, spend time with them interacting in fun, child-like ways.
3. Adults need to be aware of the programs and
music video clips that young children watch and be willing to censor their
viewing. Having televisions in public places, rather than in bedrooms, helps
this monitoring process.
What is the concern about children growing up to quickly? Simply this. Conventional wisdom has been that a long latency period where children get lost in the haze of childhood is the best preparation for adolescence.