This topic of sexualization in early childhood is extremely heartbreaking. Children in the world today are exposed to so many negative influences and it is devastating to think that these images and perspectives are so destructive to their healthy growth and development. “Ideally, children have direct personal experience being in and witnessing caring and affectionate relationships with family and friends. Ideally, they are nurtured by supportive and trusted adults” (Levin & Kilbourne, 2009, p. 4). While this ideal scenario does exist, so often I observe the inverse. Families that I work with are dealing with the effects and demands of poverty, therefore, are often less actively engaged in what their children are exposed to. Video games and television have become new babysitters and substitutes for creative play and adults seem to be becoming less and less aware of what their children are being exposed to.
Unfortunately, I have observed this sexualization in early childhood in my own classroom. My classroom experience is in Kindergarten and First Grade, so I have seen four to seven year old girls singing and gyrating to songs like “I’m Too Sexy,” along with a plethora of other songs with suggestive, demoralizing lyrics. I have watched the same little girls tote lipgloss or other makeup products around because they “need it to be beautiful.” There have been precious souls in my classroom that tug on clothes (that already look more appropriate for young adults than they do for children) in order to expose bare shoulders or plunging necklines. Girls are not the only ones effected by this sexualization, however. Boys feel pressured to desperately hold back tears and “tough it out” when they are hurt. I’ve watched five year old boys on playgrounds violently take swings at each other and act out of pure aggression because of what has been modeled to them in movies and video games as “macho” or “tough.” These same precious boys pine for “girlfriends” based on “who is the prettiest.”
Implications of this on children’s healthy development are profound. “Gender role expectations and limitations are still amount the strongest messages children receive” (Derman-Sparks & Edwards, 2010, p. 90). Because children are keen observers, constantly watching what is modeled to them, and forming perceptions based on these observations, they are quickly developing ideas of what their bodies “should” look like, what their clothes “need” to have in order to make them beautiful, and how they “have” to act in order to successfully fulfill their gender roles. This is scary, as many of these standards and expectations placed on our children are unrealistic and will never completely satisfy them, as the demand will only increase for more. I believe that as educators, our best approach is a proactive one. We need to provide an alternative perspective to children through our actions, our words, what we wear, etc. We need to emphasize beauty in diversity, in personality, in character. We need to counteract violence and aggression with love and kindness. We need to accentuate the traits and characteristics that truly make each child special and unique and constantly affirm these things.
Through studying this topic more, I have come to realize that how much this topic truly tugs at my heartstrings. Listing examples of sexualization in my classroom brought me to tears. This has truly become an epidemic in our society and we need to be light for truth and for change in our children’s lives.
Derman-Sparks, L., & Edwards, J. (2010). Anti-bias education for young children and ourselves. Washington, DC: NAEYC.
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