Protecting Your Child from Sexualization

Do you limit TV time for your child?

Today's show focuses on whether little girls are growing up too quickly, and what kind of impact TV shows like "Toddlers & Tiaras" have on youngsters.

Author/Professor Diane E. Levin, Ph.D, takes a closer look behind this controversial topic and shares some valuable advice for parents.

1. Media and Popular Culture

Protect children as much as possible from exposure to sexual imagery and content in the media and popular culture.

The more children see, the more confused and even scared they can become, the more time and energy they use to try to understand it, and the more help they need from adults to work it out. Trying to limit the media in their lives is one way to protect children.

2. Go Beyond Just Saying 'No'

Protecting children does not mean that we should "Just Say No" to all things that might expose children to inappropriate sexual content.

Saying "no" or setting appropriate limits in a constructive way is a complicated process. The more we succeed at working out solutions with children, where they feel their voice is heard, rather than using our power over them to set the limits, the more likely it is that the limits we come up will be meaningful and work for children.

3. Establish Lines of Communication Early

Establish safe channels for talking about sexual development with children when they are young.

Children need to know that nothing that they bring up for discussion about what they hear or do is off limits for discussion with a trusted adult.

And the more comfortable children feel about raising issues and asking about sexual content when they are young, the better able they will be to use adults to help them process the escalating content that gets in as they get older.

4. Pay Attention to Your Child's Play and Art

Pay attention to children's play and art. Talk to them about it. Learn about what they know and are working on.

Providing open-ended (versus highly-structured) play materials, such as blocks, baby dolls, generic dress-up clothes, miniature people, a doctor's kit and doll house, markers and paper, can all support children's efforts.

5. Try Not to Blame Children

Try not to blame children or make them feel guilty or ashamed when they do or say something that feels inappropriate.

Too often children are blamed and punished when they act on what makes perfect sense given what surrounds them.

Try to take the child's point of view and see the world through his or her eyes. This is a vital starting point for figuring out what led to the "inappropriate" behavior and deciding how to respond.

6. Respond to What Your Child Does and Says

When talking to children about sexual issues, take your lead from what the children do and say and what you know about them as individuals.

Base your responses on the age, prior experiences, specific needs, and unique concerns of individual children.

Try to start by finding out what children know. For instance, if a child brings up a specific sexual content in conversation, before jumping in with the "right" answer, you might ask, "What have you heard about that? What the child says can guide what you say next.

7. Answer Questions

Answer questions and clear up misconceptions that worry or confuse. You don't need to provide the full story.

Just tell children what they seem to want to know. Don't worry about giving "right answers" or if children have ideas that don't agree with yours.

8. Teach Alternative Lessons to Messages in Pop Culture

Teach alternative lessons to the messages in the popular culture that undermine healthy sexual development and behavior.

What this means will vary with age and experience of the children. Making sure children are exposed to positive and caring relationships between adults at home, at school and even, in the media, is what children need to learn about when they are young.

Then they will have a foundation for gradually connecting ideas about sex to their understanding of positive adult relationships.

Help them experience and express positive physical affection with appropriate people in their lives.

Convey clear, age-appropriate guidelines about what is and is not appropriate.

9. Engage in Give-and-Take Questions

To the extent possible, try to engage in the give-and-take discussions with children when working on all of the guidelines suggested here.

We can also use situations when sexual content comes up in the media or in other ways as opportunities to discuss with children what they think about what they saw as well as share your own opinions.

10. Share Your Concerns with Others

Share your values and concerns with teachers, grandparents and parents of your children's friends.

The discussions which result can help you build a community of adults who share your values and who will respect rather than undermine your efforts with your child.

11. Involve Your Child's School

Involve schools in efforts to promote healthy sexual development.

In addition to parents' efforts, an important part of this task rests with the schools.

Children need age-appropriate sex education programs in schools that help them build ideas about meaningful sexuality and address their real issues and concerns.

12. Other Resources

The American Psychological Association has prepared 2 important reports on related issues-one on the negative impact of marketing to children which calls for restrictions and one on "The Sexualization of Girls. ( )

Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) is a coalition of the many organizations working to reduce marketing to children. ( )

Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children's Entertainment (TRUCE) prepares materials for parents about effective ways to resist the commercial culture and promote positive play, learning, and social relationships. ( )

Diane E. Levin, Ph.D

About Diane
Diane Levin is Professor of Education at Wheelock College in Boston, Massachusetts. She has written eight books, including "So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and How Parents Can Protect Their Kids" (with Jean Kilbourne), "The War Play Dilemma," "Teaching Young Children in Violent Times" and "Remote Control Childhood?" She speaks around the world on the impact of violence, media and other societal issues on children, families and schools.


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