Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Just what are we teaching our young girls?

It is amazing how quickly one week away turned into three. Let me start with just a brief catch-up note. Initially I was only going to have one week away from blogging during the Fourth of July week. My wife and I usually join my family for a long weekend at the lake. So I figured that I wouldn't get much writing in. But then the week we came back I officiated over my very first wedding. It was pretty exciting because it was for one of my former youth group kids. Then I spent most of last week answering doctrinal questions on an application for a Senior Pastor position. Some of you might cringe at answering questions on Baptism, The Lord's Supper, church governance/discipline and Spiritual Gifts but once I start I sometimes have a hard time quitting. But now I am back to my regularly scheduled blog post.

Last week I came across an interesting but disturbing article entitled: Why 6-Year-Old Girls Want to Be Sexy. The article starts off with a fairly ominous statement:

"Most girls as young as 6 are already beginning to think of themselves as sex objects, according to a new study of elementary school-age kids in the Midwest."

Researchers from Knox College in Galesburg, IL showed a couple of paper dolls to girls that were between 6 and 9 years old. Both dolls were dressed in clothes that would be considered fashionable. One was dressed in a modest way and the other was dressed like a sexy Bratz doll. The results are quite disturbing:

"Across-the-board, girls chose the "sexy" doll most often. The results were significant in two categories: 68 percent of the girls said the doll looked how she wanted to look, and 72 percent said she was more popular than the non-sexy doll."

I don't know that it really is all that stunning that almost three quarters of 6 to 9-year-olds identify dressing sexy with being popular. For those that do find it surprising might I suggest a quick perusal of pop culture that includes a look at MTV. But what is interesting (and again not all that stunning when you really think about the issue) is that media consumption and desire to dress sexy is not the primary correlation that we might suppose.

"Media consumption alone didn't influence girls to prefer the sexy doll. But girls who watched a lot of TV and movies and who had mothers who reported self-objectifying tendencies, such as worrying about their clothes and appearance many times a day, in the study were more likely to say the sexy doll was popular.

"The authors suggest that the media or moms who sexualize women may predispose girls toward objectifying themselves; then, the other factor (mom or media) reinforces the messages, amplifying the effect. On the other hand, mothers who reported often using TV and movies as teaching moments about bad behaviors and unrealistic scenarios were much less likely to have daughters who said they looked like the sexy doll. The power of maternal instruction during media viewing may explain why every additional hour of TV- or movie-watching actually decreased the odds by 7 percent that a girl would choose the sexy doll as popular, Starr said. "As maternal TV instruction served as a protective factor for sexualization, it’s possible that higher media usage simply allowed for more instruction.""

The influence of a mother–for good or bad–may be one of the most important aspects of the development of young girls. The article also found that a mother's religious beliefs also positively influenced the girls but that it wasn't due to a "media blackout."

"However, girls who didn’t consume a lot of media but who had religious mothers were much more likely to say they wanted to look like the sexy doll. "This pattern of results may reflect a case of 'forbidden fruit' or reactance, whereby young girls who are overprotected from the perceived ills of media by highly religious parents … begin to idealize the forbidden due to their underexposure," the authors wrote. Another possibility is that mothers of girls who displayed sexualized attitudes and behaviors had responded by restricting the amount of TV and movies their daughters could watch. Regardless, the authors underlined, "low media consumption is not a silver bullet" against early self-sexualization in girls."

What seems to be the most important aspect is when a mother takes the time to teach their daughters about what they encounter in both media and popular culture. It is important for parents to understand and explain the problems that come with the sexual objectification of women with their daughters even at a young age. This isn't a new idea and is how God designed the parent/child relationship to work. Proverbs 22:6 says:

"Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it."

For good or bad what parents teach their children will be even more powerful than anything that pop culture, the media or anyone else tries to teach your children. The only time that those other voices will have a bigger impact is when parents–through both their actions and inaction–"teach" their children need to learn from someone else.


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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