Many early childhood directors are worried about the ways they see young children trying to be sexy, and have bought copies of So Sexy So Soon for their resource libraries. They hoped that parents in the school community would read the book and discuss how they could improve the problems created by sexualized childhood.
They weren’t prepared for the response they often got when parents saw the book—“Phew, I’m sure glad I don’t have to read this until my child is older.” And this view often came from parents of the children in their classroom who had the most sexualized appearance and behavior.
Here are a few examples of what teachers have seen:
• Four-year-old boys and girls walk around the play yard holding hands “on dates.” A conflict occurs over which boy will get the “prettiest” girl.
• Three preschool girls put on fancy clothes in the dress up area, and capture their classmates’ attention as they stick out their chests, wiggle their hips and pucker their lips—doing a “High School Musical” dance.
• In the cafeteria, a kindergartener points out the “popular” table of girls to her teacher. When the teacher asks her how she knows, she says, “They have the sexy clothes.” [And they do!]
• A five-year-old boy tells a classmate, “I want to have sex with you.” The boy is sent to the school counselor in preparation for suspension because of the school’s “Zero Tolerance” policy. The counselor asks the boy what he wants to do to the girl. He cries, “I want to kiss her, I like her!”
You have probably heard about the sexiness pushed by commercial culture on ‘tweens and teens, an age when the effects are more obvious. But, as the above stories show, this issue really is about young children too. Sexualized behavior among young children is often seen as “cute,” but foundations built in early years influence later ideas about gender roles, relationships and sexual behavior.
The earlier you notice and take action on this issue, the more you will help children to have healthy social, emotional and sexual development. You will also be better prepared to deal with situations like those described above when they do occur!
I want to thank professionals who are initiating work with parents on sexualization issues and to ask you to keep trying. And, if you’re not already involved, I urge you to think about how you might begin.
What are your concerns about how sexualization is affecting young children? How have you dealt with your concerns and how do you feel about your efforts? Please share your ideas about how more parents and teachers can get attuned to what’s going on and to what they can do about it!