The two documentaries I viewed this week, “Sext up Kids” and “The Sextortion of Amanda Todd,” were eye-opening and reaffirming to me how difficult it is to be a tween or teen in today’s society. Both girls and boys of this age range are constantly bombarded with images and messages that present a distorted view of what being a girl or boy should look like.
For girls, it is the objectification and hypersexualization at such an early age. For boys, it is not only the access to pornography, but also the distorted view of sex that is created through access to these sites. I was shocked by the statistic that 70 to 80% of teenage boys are watching online pornography, but it does make sense that they would explore since it is so easily accessible.
So who is to blame for the direction our society has taken? There are restrictions available on T.V. to filter and screen the content your child is exposed to, but the internet creates a new medium where even proper filtering will at some point lead your child with access to images and videos with the potential of creating these distorted perspectives. Since most teenagers also have access to smartphones, they too have the ability to create sexualized content themselves. The consequences of hypersexualization are debatable, but many studies have found effects ranging from decreased cognitive functioning to physical and mental health concerns. I found the Amanda Todd video especially tragic in the respect that, like many teenage girls, she was simply looking for attention and affirmation of her self-worth. In this sense, social media sites can make teens or tween feel good about themselves and popular. On the other hand, one mistake can cause you to question your entire self-concept.
Commercial marketing plays a role in influencing our purchasing decisions which indirectly influence the messages our children experience from early on. If you look at any large department store, toys for children aged 2 and up are divided into aisles. There is a pink isle and a truck isle.
Consumers make the ultimate decision; however you are indirectly guided towards specific aisles based on the sex of the child you are making the purchase for. Even the idea that there are bikinis for toddlers makes me cringe a little. Yes the toddler has no concept of sexualisation, but the parent making that decision for the child does have control. Similarly, the “Sext up Kids” documentary shows a French lingerie line for tweens that truly makes me sad. These little girls are photographed and put on display in ways that makes me question why the company would even want to send this message of objectification. I personally think this is where the power of social media should create active citizens who voice concerns over this type of marketing.
If this is the world we are presented with, what can be done? The document, “Letting Children be Children – Report of an Independent Review of the Commercialisation and Sexualisation of Childhood,” contains many actionable items that could help to reverse this alarming trend of hypersexualization of tweens in marketing. Although this is a start, it really is ultimately up to the parents to create an environment for their children where communication and discussion are in the forefront of the relationship. As Genna states in her blog, “Of critical importance is that parents talk, talk, and talk some more with their children.”
Parents are going to be the ultimate voice for their children. Parents can advocate on behalf of their children and can monitor their children. All the filters in the world will never fully protect children. Instead, we need to help them create a positive self-image and develop coping skills for dealing with adversity. My children are toddlers, so I am unable to predict how I will parent as they become teenagers. At this point it seems easy to claim that I wouldn’t allow a webcam or smartphone until they reach an acceptable age. What I would hope is that I am able to stay current with the technology they are using and to continue communicating with my children as they become teenagers. I do not think that we can always rely on research to tell us how our children will react or respond when bombarded with these types of messages. Research may take a while to catch up to technology. Instead, we must rely on common sense and our parenting instincts to know when our children are struggling.