This is a sad and shocking topic to discuss. No one should ever be made to feel like physical appearance and sexuality defines his or her worth. This is not a new issue for teenagers trying to deal with so many changes in their body and figuring out how and where they fit in. It is new to focus on such topics so early as preschool. “Preschool age to tweens is when you can make the biggest difference in reducing the negative impacts of the sexualization of childhood on our children (Levin & Kilbourn, 2009, pp. 7).” It is important to realize very young children are exposed to the same inappropriate and harmful messages in todays cultural environment (Levin & Kilbourn, 2009) as teenagers, young adults, and adults are. We live in a cultural that bombards the media, toys, video games, and more with negative messages of sexualization affecting children of all ages, genders, race, socioeconomic status, and ethnic groups.
The foundation of our sexual identity is formed at a very young age from the positive and negative experiences we have and messages we receive. This foundation will affect the types of sexual relationships we have when we grow up. (Levin & Kilbourn, 2009) It is important for us as parents and teachers of young children to support a positive foundation and develop a support system for children to develop a positive sexual identity. As a teacher and a parent, I have not experienced any stories so explicate and graphic as the ones share in the book, So Sexy So Soon. (Levin & Kilbourn, 2009) However, I have experienced more subtle examples that illustrate the exposure of young children to a highly sexualized environment. I have notice over the year girls are more aware of and looking for ways to alter their appearance at younger and younger ages. Preschool girls wearing makeup, jewelry, coloring their hair, and wearing tighter and shorter clothes to school are examples of young girls getting the message their natural looks are not enough. I have noticed a trend to design girls clothing to match older teenagers and young adults just in a smaller size. This can send messages that young girls are interested and ready to be sexually active well before they know how to send this message. I have noticed an increase in preschool age students who feel justified in pointing out and teasing other children who do not dress the same as they do. The increase in sexualized media content is sending the message that if you don’t look like the models and dress like them, your life wont be as glamorous and you will not be as happy. Children are reenacting these messages by bullying peers at younger and younger ages about their physical appearance.
These are more subtle than the examples in the book, however they carry the same message, children are highly influenced by the sexualized environment they are growing up in. In my classroom, we had an experience that opened our eyes to this very issue. One morning as a few students were entering the classroom, a staff member noticed one of the little girls shirts and mentioned she liked the color. Another little girl stopped, looked at the teacher, and said I will go back out and come in again so you can look at me. She really did go out and back in, paused, posed, and waited for our compliments. This took us by surprise, we had to take a step back and reflect on the messages we had been sending. We realized in an effort to engage and interact with student’s daily as they enter the classroom our focus may have been or at least ws interpreted by this girl on children’s appearance. This was a big revelation for us. We took time to discuss this situation with each other and agreed to make a conscious effort to not identify any physical characteristics of children as they entered the room. This was actually harder than we thought it would be. We are working hard on catching our comments and really thinking about he messages we are sending children about many topics but especially about their sexual identity.
“No child growing up today can fully escape today’s sexualized environment (Levin & Kilbourn, 2009, pp. 7)” but we can do more to make the impact less damaging to children’s sexual, personal, and social identity development. Building resilience in children will not be easy but we as parents and early childhood professionals must make every effort to show children ways to expand their horizons that respect who they are as individuals and each other. (Levin & Kilbourn, 2009) Through our actions and our words, we can make a positive difference in a child’s sexual identity that will follow them to adulthood and impact future relationships. Helping children value themselves beyond their physical appearance and attractiveness is key. We must counter the messages of the media with a true understanding of self-worth and valuing others.
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.