The Parent Television Council recently came out with a report discussing how teen and tween girls are depicted in primetime television. One of the main points that they make is that the depiction of young girls has become increasingly sexualized on shows who have large teen-age audiences and with characters depicted as teens even if the actors portraying them are actually older. We’ve clearly seen age compression at work here, with more mature themes being pushed to lower and lower age groups. It’s gotten to the point that you can’t watch The Disney Channel without seeing stories about dating and kissing even among characters that are 10-12 year olds.
The results of this sexualized depiction of girls is bad for both boys and girls. Not only can it lead to eating disorders and low self-esteem for girls, but it can also lead to a focus on shallow, physically based relationships for boys. The increasing stress put on physicality sends the message that the most important thing about a relationship is what the other person looks like. They may be fun, smart, love the same things you do, but if they don’t measure up to the media depictions of what beauty is, forget them!
For both boys and girls to learn to handle sexualized media messages, the adults in their lives need to be listening and talking with them. When they want to watch or listen to something you don’t want them exposed to, discuss it with them. Depending on their age and what the media itself is, some parents have even chosen to let their child watch or listen to it, but only in their presence. This provides them with the opportunity to then help their child analyze the media itself.
While avoidance of certain media is important, there are times when watching or listening and analyzing together can be very beneficial. This is especially true for adolescents. The truth is, they are likely to be exposed to this media when not in their parents presence anyway. When you plan supervised time to critically evaluate media together, you provide your children with the tools to do so when you’re not around. Being world changers involves being critical and involved in the world. Don’t be afraid to confront those messages that you don’t agree with. Get out there and make a difference.