As the mother of three children and a professional educator who’s worked with children for many years, I am a Dr. Seuss fan. The truths that consistently frame his work are illuminating, both in large and small ways. Sometimes I feel like Horton the elephant from Horton Hears a Who, calling out to people that yes, the commercialized sexualization of children does matter.
Why? At the heart of it, the sexualization of children is a discounting of a child’s individuality and humanity. These children are treated as sexual jokes by their parents and the adults in their lives. From the little girl taught to gyrate suggestively for a pageant while adults look on and laugh at her to the little girls tarted up for lingerie spread or magazine ads in an attempt to sell products, these girls are not being respected as human beings. They are being treated as objects.
Let me tell you something, children are people. They have feelings and they are forming their identities. Having worked with children for many years, I have a very deep respect for the depth of their pain and their joy, for their innocence and ability to see the world from a different perspective. These are beautiful, transient moments that vanish with experience and age. As adults, we should provide children with the time to learn, to grow, to create and experiment rather than forcing them into little boxes that confine them to limited ideas of what they should do, feel, and look like. We should provide them with room to stretch their wings, to try new things, to find their niche, rather than prescribing the role that they must play.
It is easy to feel powerless in the face of the relentless commercialization of sexualized media. But we are not powerless. When we stand together, when we raise our voices, there will be change. Without us, nothing changes. As we take a stand, things will get better. We have seen this time and again with issues of social justice, from the suffrage movement and the civil rights movement to the fight for child labor laws. When enough people decide that enough is enough and decide to fight for change, change does occur. And remember, as Horton said, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” Children deserve to be treated with respect, to be allowed to be children rather than treated as objects for amusement. They deserve better than that.