If you’ve been to any major retailor in the past few years with your daughter, then I’m sure that you’ve noticed that the clothes marketed to our tweens, teens and even little girls are becoming more and more sexualized.  Whether it’s push-up bras for 12-year-olds, or thongs for ten-year-olds, it can be pretty challenging to find seemingly “appropriate” undergarments (and outer-garments) for our daughters.  I find myself pretty troubled by the butt-cheek-grazing pieces of cloth that many clothing manufacturers are trying to pass off as shorts and skirts, as well as the fact that most of the girls I work with seem to showcase their bra-straps as part of their clothing statements. 

As parents, when our kids want to dress sexy, it’s important that we recognize that it’s not necessarily their fault.  Much of the media is pushing our kids toward sexualization, which occurs when:

  • A person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or sexual behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
  • A person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
  • A person is sexually objectified—that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; or
  • Sexuality is inappropriately imposed on a person.[i]

Many recent reports have focused on the sexualization of children and teenagers, particularly of girls.  One study analyzed the top 25 most watched programs among kids aged 12-17.  This study found that:

  • When teenage girls are shown on screen, they are often depicted in a highly sexual or provocative manner;
  • 98% of sexual incidents involving teenage female characters occur with partners with whom they do not have any form of committed relationship;
  • Teenage girls initiate the vast majority of sexual interactions on screen and are more likely to depict or insinuate sexual acts or activities in programming than adult women; and
  • 67% of episodes involving sexualized scenes with teenage girls were comedic in nature, and in about 73% of the depictions of sexual scenes, the sexual interactions were presented in a humorous manner, for instance as a punch line in a joke.[ii]

Also, just take a quick look at our daughter’s idols—women like Rihanna and Lady Gaga, who make a killing off of pushing an incredibly provocative, sexual image.  Our little girls often want to be just like the women they see on TV and in the music videos they watch.

This being said, it’s quite likely that your kids are not just the product of today’s culture, but that they just might want to buy sexy underwear to be able to show off that sexy underwear to a boy they like.  They want male attention—it’s only natural—and they are trying to present themselves in an alluring and appealing fashion.  As parents, it’s important for us to be involved in regular conversation with our daughters about what is going on in their lives—who they are interested in and whether they want to date a particular boy.  Engaging in regular, honest conversation about sex and boundary setting will help your daughter understand where you are coming from when you tell them they can’t have sexy underwear or wear skirts that don’t quite cover their rear-ends. 

In the end, kids will be kids, and chances are, if they want sexy underwear, at some point they will find a way to get their hands on it.  Don’t be naïve in thinking that they may not have a rather forward use for that underwear, rather than just being able to wear something for themselves that’s “cute”.  Help them to understand that what they wear communicates a message to those around them, and that, if they are Christians, then it’s worth thinking through how that message can honor God.  Likewise, what they do with their bodies matters—both to you and to God, and you want to help them to walk in a way that honors the Lord.  Ask them how you can help support them towards purity, and consider looking over some of our helpful information in “The Talk” regarding how to have ongoing conversation with your daughter on matters relating to purity, sex and pornography.

[i] American Psychological Association, Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. (2010). Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. Retrieved from <http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/girls/report-full.pdf>.

[ii] Parents Television Council, Special Report. (2010).  Sexualized Girls: Tinsel Town’s New Target, A Study of Teen Female Sexualization.  Retrieved from <http://www.parentstv.org/FemaleSexualization/Study/Sexualized_Teen_Girls.pdf>.