Too Sexy, Too Soon?

August 19, 2009 — Leave a comment

KSL Television ~ Studio 5 ~ View Video Segment

Children are the target when it comes to exploiting them with marketing messages. Marketers know about young children’s vulnerabilities and they prey on them. (This doesn’t mean these marketers hate children; many of them are likely parents themselves but money is the bottomline.) Children are too young to understand that the purpose of an ad is to get them to buy something. If they see a child smiling and looking happy, they don’t realize it’s because the child is being paid to look that way. (Even we still fall victim to the traps!) Young children believe that what they see is what they’ll get, so when sexy appearance is connected to happiness, they believe that’s the direction to take. Children are especially vulnerable to sexual and violent images because they are drawn to the dramatic, even when it’s frightening or confusing.

According to a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average American child spends more than 38 hours a week on video games, music, TV, and their computers – nearly the equivalent of a full-time job. The report notes that 68% of the material children watch contains sexual content!

Now, there is no research at this point demonstrating that young kids who are exposed to sexual imagery get involved in earlier sexual activity, but there is overwhelming evidence that exposure to violence and aggression leads to violent and aggressive behavior in children as young as 8 years old. PG-13 movies don’t deserve a pass just because they may not have sex, nudity or violence. Kids pay attention to adult jokes and situations even if they don’t understand it. They actually pay even closer attention to sexual innuendos because they hope to learn about sex! Whether they understand it or not, they are absorbing it and they will likely has some effect on them and their attitudes about sexuality.

The problem is not that sex as portrayed in the media is sinful, but that it is cynical and synthetic. Sex in commercial culture has more to do with trivializing and objectifying sex than promoting it. It promotes consumption not connection

It was the deregulation of television in the 1980’s that led to much more violent programming for young boys, and more of what’s sweet and pretty for girls. Today, those two divisions have become even more extreme. Boys are told to be macho and get ready to fight, and girls are told it’s no longer enough to be sweet and pretty, they must be sweet and sexy.

The Golden Marbles celebrated the most successful (meaning most lucrative) corporate marketing to kids regardless of its affect on the well-being of children and families. Even some child psychologists advised the advertising industry on how to more effectively manipulate children for profit. Currently, corporations spend $12 billion marketing to children.

The Golden Marble Awards were presented in the television commercial product categories for the following: Best Electronic/Video Game Commercial, Best Doll Commercial, Best Action Figure Commercial, Best Game Commercial, Best Creative Play Commercial, Best Toy Commercial-General, Best Breakfast Food Commercial, Best Snack Food Commercial, Best Beverage Commercial, Best Food Commercial-General, Best Clothing/Apparel/Accessories Commercial, Best Non-Food Packaged Good Commercial, Best Commercial for a Television Program, Home Video or Movie, Best Commercial for a Television Network or Programming Block and Best Entertainment Venue Commercial. Other awards include Best Cinema Advertising, Best On-line Advertising, Best Animation Company (Cel), Best Animation Company (SFX), Best Commercial Directed to Parents of Preschoolers, Best Overall Campaign and Best Public Service Advertising.

It appears that these awards have now been temporarily suspended due to protests by the Stop Commercial Exploitation of Children

“So Sexy So Soon!”

T = TEACH

Teach your values and concerns to your kidsââ?¬Â¦and to other adults in your family and social circle. Let it be know what movies and television watching is in line with your value system. We’re not in this alone and we need others to help us fight the fight!

Let your kids teach you about the media and popular culture in their lives. Have them share with you what shows, video games they like and don’t like. Have them teach you what their friends are viewing and saying about these shows, also. Watch shows and play video games with your children so you are aware of what they are being exposed to and you can talk about why sexual or violent images disturb you.

Parents, teach yourselves by previewing movies and video games; read previews from other parents on-line. Join Facebook or MySpace so you understand online activities your child is involved in. We no longer need to worry about keeping up with the Jones’; we need to keep up with our children and media mania.

E = ENCOURAGE

Encourage other activities then television and computer games, such as, sports, volunteering, music, and developing new skills sets. It’s our job to protect children as much as possible from exposure to sexual imagery in the media and pop culture. Ban TV’s and computers from kids’ bedrooms. Those items belong in family rooms and other open areas in the home. Set up a schedule that spells out how much screen time your kids have each day. And, remember, they will follow our lead; we must get up off the couch and encourage exploration of good wholesome activities.

A = ASK

When children say or do something inappropriate, start the conversation by asking them, “What have you heard about that?” A 5-year-old boy, Jason, got into trouble one day after kindergarten when his classmate, Ashley, came home from school and announced “Jason wants to have sex with me!” Ashley’s parents were understandably upset, forbidding their daughter to play with Jason again, called the school, demanded to meet with the school teacher and principal and demanded a meeting with Jason’s parents. All the adults involved were concerned about what must be going on in Jason’s home for him to come up with such a comment at the age of 5. The principal firmly believed in the school’s Zero Tolerance policy and considered suspending Jason to teach him a lesson that he should never say such things.

Fortunately, the school counselor met with Jason and told him that people were worried about what he said to Ashley. She asked Jason to tell her what he said and what he meant. Suddenly, Jason burst into tears and said, “I wanted to kiss her. I like her. I like her!”

Fortunately, Jason got the kind of support he needed to regain his self-confidence in his ability to appropriately express affection for his peers. And Ashley was able to work through the misguided and disturbing response she got from the adults around her in response to Jason’s words.

When children talk about sex or sexual things, use a child’s lens not an adult lens for understanding. What may be one thing to us, but something totally different to children.

Especially as teenagers, our kids pretend to know more than they really do. Do not be surprised if your child doesn’t see the connection between dressing provocatively, sexy dancing, and body language, and actually having sex and a sexual relationship. A tens brains is not developed enough to understand the consequences of his actions until he or she is well into his 20’s. ASK what certain things mean to them!

C = Counteract

Let’s help our boys learn alternatives to tough and violent behavior; perhaps they learn how to use words and excel in debate class, or they take up martial arts or weight lifting class to improve their muscle mass and learn about good self-care through proper nutrition and exercise. Let’s encourage our girls to be physically active and independent, rather than focusing on appearance and sexiness. Invite your sons to learn cooking skills with you in the kitchen, and invite your daughters out to the garage with you to learn how to polish the wheels on a vehicle or change a flat tire (whatever is age appropriate.)

H = Honor

Sadly, if we are too rigid as adults, kids will sneak behind our backs or be afraid to tell us when they see or hear something disturbing. Try working out solutions with your children. When you need to say “No” say it constructively: “I know how much you want me to buy that movieââ?¬Â¦because all the kids are begging to watch it, too. But I’ve previewed it and it makes me too uncomfortable to let that happen. I love you too much to NOT do what I think is right by you as your parent. I take my responsibility as “Mike’s Mom” seriouslyââ?¬Â¦and therefore I still cannot permit this movie into our home. I’m so glad we can talk about it. Tell me what’s like for you to feel like you’re missing out on this? I remember feeling that way as a kidââ?¬Â¦..”

When you honor your child and their thoughts and feelings, even when you disagree with them, they are more apt to come to you about sex or emotionally charged issues. Keep the connection strong amidst the grips that try and pull us apart. Make sure your child hears you say, “I will always tell you the truth. You can always count on me to do what’s right by you, as best as I can!”

Source: “So Sexy So Soon,” by Diane Levin, Ph.D., and Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D.

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Dr. Liz Hale

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