By Dr. Jim Taylor,
Whenever I think popular culture, and the companies that control it for their own profiteering ends, has gone as low as it can go in its wanton disregard for basic decency in general and children in particular, it always seems to find a way to dig deeper within itself and discover new depths to plumb.
Cases in point was the release of a new line of girls’ bathing suits by the actress Elizabeth Hurley that has caused quite a stir, along with two recent research studies that, taken in toto, should leave any parent of a young girl absolutely mortified. This isn’t the first time I’ve explored the unhealthy relationship between popular culture and girls. It’s such a big issue for me because I have two young daughters of my own. I see them surrounded by these awful messages and want to do everything I can to protect them for as long as I can (while recognizing that I can’t protect them forever).
Some might argue that all this concern for young girls’ exposure to sexuality is just much ado about nothing. These girls are just wearing clothes that are fun and they don’t even know what sex is. Or we Americans are such prudes; girls in other parts of the world run around naked and no one cares. Or girls might as well get used to it because that’s the world they are now growing up in.
But my harsh reaction isn’t about religious beliefs, personal standards of conduct, or legal views on decency. Rather, my condemnation is based on my own work in child development and parenting as well as the latest research on the impact of early exposure of sexuality to girls’ development. And the impact of this early sexualization of girls is real and it ain’t good.
As I write about in my third parenting book, Your Children are Listening: Nine Messages They Need to Hear From You, children are sponges for the early messages they get. Further, thanks to television, movies, and the Internet, popular culture sends its unhealthy messages loudly and persistently, drowning out other healthier messages (e.g., from parents) that might be trying to get through. When children are exposed to these messages enough, they can’t help but internalize them and make them their own. And, sadly, these unhealthy messages shape the values, attitudes, and beliefs they come to hold about themselves and the world. It’s not hard to see, then, how early exposure to sexuality can set girls on an unhealthy life path.