Most of us are aware of, and concerned about, the extent to which children appear to be becoming sexualised at a younger and younger age. The contributing factors are primarily social/cultural, although physiological factors also play a role (for e.g. diet and environmental pollutants). What needs to be done, and who should be held responsible for taking whatever action is needed to address the situation?
With regards to social/cultural influences, a linkage has been established, for example, between the increasing prevalence of households in which the father is not present, and children becoming sexually active at an earlier age (Source).
Other social factors that may be relevant include the trend towards families having less children, parents delaying having children until they are older, and the increase in the proportion of families where both parents work.
Clearly we must also consider sexually predatory behaviour by some adults, together with the related issues of child sex tourism, child prostitution and trafficking. The latter is more common in developing countries, yet is nevertheless still present here in the first world. It is important to note that both men and women perpetrate and/or facilitate these crimes, and that their victims may be either male or female.
I am by no means an expert in this field, but some of the more significant influences would seem to be:
The example provided by parents and carers, and the messages they communicate about what constitutes appropriate values and age-appropriate behaviour
Parents make many decisions affecting children, for example, what clothes are bought/worn, what films are watched at the cinema, what magazines are purchased, etc. There have been stories in the media about parents who encourage (persuade?) their children to take place in beauty pageants or similar activities that many other would consider questionable.
Who is responsible? In order of significance … mothers, fathers (where one is present), other family members, and carers/teachers. Governments and the courts play a role through the social and welfare policies they put in place, particularly in relation to issues of custody and visitation.
See for example:
Mother of ‘most beautiful girl’, 9, slams claims she sexed up daughter (7 December 2014). Feb 2016 update on Kristina and her mum here
Exposure to media images and stories, particularly for example in tween/teen and young womens magazines, that promote, glamourize and normalize sexually-charged behaviour and styles of clothing
Sexting: Should teens be left to their own devices? (8 October 2016) Australia
Sexualisation of children (13 February 2011)
Who is responsible? Editors and journalists of the relevant publications (these being primarily women), and parents who ostensibly control TV viewing habits and determine which magazines are purchased and brought home.
The availability and social acceptability of certain products, particularly clothing, that could be seen to facilitate the sexualisation of children
Department stores, for example, often assert that they stock products based on there being a consumer demand for them. Whilst many parents are against stores stocking provocative and age-inappropriate clothing, there is another group of people who are against restrictions or censure in relation to the public dissemination of questionable photos of children in general, and dressing girls in adult-style clothing in particular. Here’s an example of that line of thought here.
The members of that group see such photos, and such clothing, as “cute” and “harmless fun – just like playing dress-ups”. Their views seem to be akin to the criticism of so-called ‘victim-blamers’ as practiced by feminists. In other words, they feel that others who say that pre-teen girls should not be wearing skimpy/provocative clothing are ‘sick’ (or even accuse critics of being paedophiles themselves), and that girls of any age should be able to wear whatever they want without judgment or fear of repercussions on themselves or others.
Child models in bikinis spark controversy at fashion show (19 July 2016) USA and Would you let your pre-teen daughter pose like THIS for a fashion brand? (Australia)
Mother objects to short shorts for young girls (10 February 2016) Video
Online retailer Missguided slammed for selling ‘offensive’ top (1 December 2015)
Reader ‘Molly Black’ writes: “As for the sexualising of young girls—it isn’t paedophiles grooming them, it’s their own mothers dressing them like little tarts. I had lunch in the Kings Rd on Saturday and I couldn’t believe the way 11,12 and 13 years old girls were dressed , often with their mothers. ‘Mini-me-s’ and looking at older men too to check out if they were being given the once over.” (Source)
Who is responsible? Retail owners/managers, product manufacturers, and parents (primarily mothers) who make clothing purchasing decisions
Exposure to poor role models in popular culture, e.g. actors, models, pop stars and social media ‘celebrities’
Who is responsible? The artists in question (again, who appear to be primarily female) and the companies responsible for creating/marketing their image
Exposure to pornography
It appears that the influence of pornography on early onset of sexual activity by specific individuals may have been overstated, although one would imagine that its effect as part of the broader social milieu is still likely to be significant.
Who is responsible? The producers of pornography, the models/actors featured therein, and adults responsible for either facilitating or failing to exercise control over childrens access to porn.
Passive exposure to sexually-charged advertising on billboards, magazines in stores, and free-to-air TV
This is the ‘white noise’ of sexualised messages and imagery that we are all unwittingly exposed to as we go about our daily business.
Who is responsible? The media. Companies that advertise products. The advertising/marketing agencies (most of whose staff are female) who create the ads. To a lesser extent, bureaucrats within government agencies that make determinations as to whether ads are acceptable.
Diet and environmental factors in the home
It has been established that the early onset of menstruation can be triggered by body weight reaching certain thresholds. Given an increasing number overweight children then it seems likely that this is an increasingly significant factor in early development, and in some cases the subsequent early onset of sexual activity. The presence of certain household chemicals is another possible contributing factor.
Poor kids hit puberty sooner and risk a lifetime of health problems (24 May 2017)
What causes girls to enter puberty early? (5 February 2015)
Who is responsible? In terms of economic disadvantage, primarily broader societal and economic forces. In terms of dietary choices and product purchasing decisions, primarily parents/children, but also food processing companies and supermarkets.
Clearly, the increasingly early sexualisation of children is a significant social issue. Is it also a gender issue? It shouldn’t be, as both boys and girls are affected, and both men and women share responsibility for creating the environment in which this phenomenon is occurring.
At the same time though, I’m not seeing a lot of patriarchy at work here. It is largely women who create and purchase the magazines in which sexualised images of girls are portrayed, their pages filled with messages conveying the idea that dressing and behaving like a tramp is a desirable expression of excitement, independence and maturity. It is women who design, market and purchase provocative clothing lines aimed at tweens and young teens. It is female celebrities, actors and pop stars who twerk and nipple-slip their way across our TV and cinema screens.
All of this is presented, by a particular group of women (and the occasional mangina), as being some noble expression of ‘girl power’. See some graphic demonstrations of that perverse mentality, here, here, here, and here.
In an article entitled ‘Sexualised girls are seen as less intelligent and less worthy of help than their peers‘ the bad guys are those people in the community who make certain value judgements concerning sexualised girls, rather than the adults who allowed them to become sexualised in the first place.
A petition I came across on change.org provides another such example of the whacky logic of liberal progressives. This was summed up in the title of a reddit discussion thread, “So, telling girls they shouldn’t dress sexually is sexualising women“. In other words it is the person who discusses or draws attention to the fact that a girl is dressed like a hooker, who has compromised judgement/morals … not the girl in question or her parents. How frighteningly short-sighted, shallow, and foolish.
And now upon viewing the fruits of their self-indulgence, that same group resort to heaping of blame upon the male gender. A more mature and reasoned course of action would be to accept a degree of accountability and to direct their energies to turning things around. The problem though is that there is an obstacle preventing progress in that direction. And that blockage is gender feminism.
On the other hand, men hold the majority of elected positions in government and within the ranks of CEO’s and thus could institute reforms to more effectively address many of the factors noted above. A small minority of men (and women) also participate in child sex tourism and other paedophile activities.
If there was ever an issue for men and women to set aside ideology and work together to protect future generations, then this is the one.
See these related sources:
Tracey Spicer: Why do men think it’s OK to comment on my pre-teen daughter’s looks? (5 February 2017) Australia. Apparently it’s all men’s fault. Tracey doesn’t like men on planes either.
Stop the sexualisation of our children. Right now, by Kylie Lang (8 December 2016) Australia
You’re A “Bigot” If You Don’t Support Pedophilia (31 May 2016)
Children with sexualised behaviours need support, not silence and stigma (27 May 2016) Australia
Controversial sex-ed program will teach Aussie toddlers about cross-dressing (6 March 2016) Australia
“Children are sexual beings and it’s a strong part of their identity, and it is linked to their values and respect”
I see articles about young girls being “sexualised” all the time, but never about boys (1 December 2014) Reddit mensrights discussion thread
Feminism, consumerism & the sexualisation of girls
Don’t blame advertisers for the sexualisation of children
Tramps like us: Target and modern day misogyny (20 August 2012)
Study: Girls as young as six want to be sexy (17 July 2012)
Sexy clothing for young girls makes up 30 per cent of the market (10 May 2011)
Sexualisation in child beauty pageants (wiki entry)
Twelve going on 20: Are girls reaching puberty earlier? (10 August 2011)