Messages about sex are everywhere, in music, animation, fashion, magazines, movies, video games, and television. Children in our popular culture are inundated with inappropriate images and messages of sex Levin & Kilbourne (2009). Through these messages, children learn the wrong messages about body image, beauty, and gender roles. Children are inundated with so many messages and images of sex that they associate sex with relationships and miss the most important parts that make-up a good relationship like compromise, trust, love, and communication. These values are not learned as primary elements of romantic relationships. According to Levin & Kilbourne (2009), girls more than boys are affected by these sexualized messages. In general, “the exploitation of our children’s sexuality is in many ways designed to promote consumerism. (p.5).
For decades, Disney princesses have been sexualized. They are portrayed with very small waists, big busts, and make-up. The princess movies and story-lines have been exclusively themed around romance, marriage, and finding the perfect man even though the princesses are very young, some in their teens. Just as disturbing are the look-alike toys that also promote a warped send of beauty and body image for girls.
In my experience music is very influential and contributes to the sexualization in children. My niece was singing this Spanish song which is well known in pop culture called “Despacito”. Her idol Justin Bieber is in the remix (newest) version of this song. She was watching the music video and was moving her body very sensual manner emulating dance moves she saw on the video (although she is only just 6 years old). After asking mom (who does not speak Spanish) if she knew what this song meant and mom replied “no”. I translated the lyrics for mom and she realized how detrimentally sexual the song was. Here are some of the lyrics in English:
Despacito: Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dr_GAJZviR0
Nice and slow
I want to undress by extra slow kisses
Sign on the walls of your labyrinth
And make your whole body a manuscript (get up, get up, get up)
Let me surpass your danger zones
Until bringing on your screams
And that you forget your last name.
Mom then sat down and explain to her daughter that this song was conveying a message that was meant for adults and not appropriate for young children. She didn’t really go into details but did say that she was not allowed to listen to the song again. Mom then understood the awakening of sexuality that her daughter could be internalizing.
I agree with Levin & Kilbourne (2009), that we must protect our children from a sexualized childhood. Although I was aware of sexualization in children, I never knew how many layers and different outlets convey the same messages. As early childhood educators, we must also be aware and able to deal with children who have been exposed to sexualization and expressing these messages. Educators should be equipped to help children and families.