Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Are kids/girls growing up too soon?

From the time they are preschoolers, kids today are subjected to an incessant stream of media messages telling them to grow up as quickly as possible. The inevitable byproduct of all this is the early sexualization of little girls. Robbed of their childhood, girls today are more likely than ever to fall victim to unhealthy lifestyles and dangerous behaviors. Take this quiz and find out how much you know about growing up too soon. True or False?

1. As helpless consumers, parents really have no way to stop the bad media influences on their children.
2. If I restrict my child's playthings and clothing to tomboy stuff, she might never know how to act like a woman.
3. Little girls dancing or dressing like sexy teens really isn't harmful.
4. Playing "dress up" with Mommy's clothes and makeup is a safe way to let little girls think about the future without sexualizing them.
5. Pageants, dance troupes and other activities that teach little girls to care about their looks, body shape and movements can only be positive experiences.
6. It's not possible for little girls to be too sexy, because they just aren't. Besides, it's safe to let them dress in cute, sexy clothes because it will keep pedophiles away.
7. It's a good idea to set a minimum age for grown-up things.
8. Being an appropriate role model is possible, even if you're not a teen celebrity.

1. FALSE. You don't have to be Ralph Nader to have an influence. Before tots start clamoring for sexy outfits and makeup kits, parents can control their kids' TV and computer usage. Record TV shows and cut out the commercials. Complain to manufacturers or advertisers of sleazy dolls, CDs, cartoons and other influences aimed at too-young kids.
2. FALSE. If your little girl is more comfortable in overalls and playing NASCAR, it's no indication that she won't be putting on mascara and going to the prom someday. Tomboys have been shown to have had more prenatal testosterone than other girls, but many climb trees as a phase on the way to a perfectly normal womanhood. If they get there without seeing themselves strictly as a sex object, then they'll be ahead of the game.
3. FALSE. A February 2007 report from the American Psychological Association, which studied every form of media, concluded that the early sexualization of girls has a negative effect on self-image, can lead to eating disorders and disrupts healthy sexual development.
4. TRUE. "Dress up" has always been a way for kids to use their imagination to pretend to be Mommy or Daddy on a rainy day. Teetering around in a pair of high heels and smearing lipstick and blush on their face is always a harmless way of seeing what it's like to be a grown-up. It's when these items are scaled down for use by 5-year-olds that this idea becomes confusing.
5. FALSE. Unfortunately, beauty pageants for kids, while raising their self-esteem if they win, can deal crushing blows to the losers, who learn to obsess about looks, makeup, weight and fake smiles when they should be out getting dirty and kicking around a soccer ball. Girls, who are taught to value strong, healthy bodies through team sports, where looks don't win them points, usually have less susceptibility to early sexualization.
6. FALSE. Pedophiles don't think like other people. And while many like little girls to look innocent, others are encouraged by thoughts that a child who is dressed in a sexy ensemble is "asking for it."
7. TRUE. Do it as soon as possible, and stick to it. Maybe by the time they get to middle school, piercings will be passé and they will realize that they really don't want their underwear showing.
8. TRUE. Moms can be role models -- they are the ones little girls will look up to from the earliest age. The child should see Mom wearing a variety of clothes -- jeans, suits and cocktail gowns, but not the Catholic schoolgirl miniskirt, complete with thong. Act your age, and you'll have a better chance that your daughter will act hers.

If you answered six of these eight questions correctly, you know something about how to protect children from growing up too fast.

Write to Dr. Joyce Brothers via King Features, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019.

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