This is a question a mom posed to me after she reviewed the sexually suggestive wall posts several girls had placed on her teenage son’s Facebook wall. She explained that when she sat down with her son and started going through the profile pictures of his friends that many of the girls were posed provocatively. They seemed to be unabashedly posting crotch-shots and nearly naked images of themselves and friends online.
We live in an “if you’ve got it, flaunt it” world where immediate gratification, impulse and pleasure reign. Most of our kids have been spoon-fed a steady diet of these sexual messages, and many have learned about sex from Internet pornography or the misguided cues of their peers or Hollywood celebrities.
A joint study by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Children Now reported that young teens ranked entertainment media as their top source for information regarding sexuality and sexual health, meaning that media outranks parents, peers and mentors as the primary sexual education for kids today. This is exacerbated by the sharp increase in media usage among teens. A recent report revealed that the average child spends more 75 hours a week consuming entertainment media – the equivalent of nearly two full-time jobs.
Unfortunately, most of this media is pushing our kids toward “sexualization.” By definition, sexualization means making a person, group or thing to be sexual in nature. The American Psychological Association (APA) regards a person as being sexualized 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.
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.
If you’re plugged in at all to what your teenagers are consuming, you’ve probably noticed that products, movies, music, clothing and TV shows marketed to teenagers regularly include provocative images and content that the previous generation would have been labeled “soft porn.” Watch a few hours of TV shows on so-called family and teenage-focused channels, and you’re bound to encounter lighted-hearted mentions of pornography and romanticized premarital sex. The top music videos regularly feature crotch grabs, near-naked dancers, stripper-inspired dance moves, S&M references, violence, girl-on-girl action and even voyeuristic and fetish sex themes.
If we allow are kids to be bombarded by these images, is it really any wonder that our girls are emulating what they see?
If you’re a parent, we would love to hear what you do to combat these harmful media messages.