A new study just out from Knox College  in Galesburg, Illinois, shows that girls as young as six are being conditioned by secular media to view themselves as sex objects. Yes, you read that right sex objects. At a time when they should be learning to read and exploring their artistic creativity, they are instead taking in images and propaganda that makes them believe they must be “sexy” in order to be popular, according to the study, published last month in the journal, Sex Roles .
Psychologists tested 60 girls age six to nine by showing them two paper dolls – one dressed in tight, revealing clothing, and the other dressed in a loose-fitting, trendy outfit. Researchers used a different set of dolls for each question, asking the girls to choose the doll that 1) looked like herself; 2) looked how she wanted to look; 3) was the “popular” girl at school; and 4) she wanted to play with.
Consistently, the girls chose the provocatively dressed doll over the modestly dressed one.
Researchers also found that media isn’t the only factor in the self-sexualization of young girls: it also depends on their mothers. “…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 … were more likely to say the sexy doll was popular,” said a LiveScience.com  report about the study.
LiveScience.com also reported that girls whose mothers used TV and movies as teaching moments about bad behaviors and unrealistic scenarios were much less likely to say they looked like the sexy doll. This implies that maternal instruction during media viewing may decrease the odds of self-sexualization among young girls.
The study also revealed some quirky, and eyebrow-raising results. For example, girls who watch a lot of TV or movies and have religious mothers fair better, tending less to see themselves as sex objects. The study suggests that this may be because religious mothers usually model higher body-esteem and modesty for their daughters, therefore reducing media impact on them.
On the other hand, the study found that girls who watched very little sexualized media and have religious mothers were actually much more likely to choose the sexy doll over the modest one. Researchers offered two possible explanations for this: Either limiting or denying access to sexualized media created a forbidden fruit reactance, or the girls had previously demonstrated self-sexualization tendencies and the parents limited media exposure as a result. Regardless, the study maintains that “low media consumption is not a silver bullet.”
I agree, with some qualifications. I’m firmly against what I call “head-in-the-sand” parenting. By this I mean parents who segregate and shelter their kids from every possible detrimental influence, actual or perceived. Absolutely, we must protect our children from evil, but we also must teach them how to recognize and combat it in the real world. I don’t advocate “throwing them into the fire,” so to speak, but I do advocate allowing them to be in morally safe situations in which they mix with others who may think and believe differently from themselves.
By “head-in-the-sand” parenting, I also mean parents who assume that their kids are automatically protected because they attend private school or homeschool. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a fellow homeschooling parent say, “Well, that will never happen to my kids because we homeschool.” Think again. Many of the parents who’ve boldly made that comment in the past are now witnessing their children dressing provocatively, leaving the Church, cohabitating, addicted to drugs and/or alcohol or even worse. I’m not judging those parents – in fact, my heart aches for them – but I am critical of their ideology. There is no method of educating or parenting that can be put on auto-pilot.
The moral is: We must do our best in all regards to raise our children right, but we can’t be duped into believing that our best is an unconditional guarantee.
So, when we’re talking about the tragic self-sexualization of our little girls, let me offer my advice:
- BE SAVVY. Realize your kids will be influenced no matter how hard you try to protect them. Also realize that over-protecting could backfire on you.
- BE AN EXAMPLE for your children. Dads, conscientiously demonstrate respect for women at all times and in all ways. Moms, demonstrate respect for other women and yourself in the way you act and dress. Both moms and dads must demonstrate exceptional and wholesome choices in media consumption (that includes books and the Internet!).
- TALK to your kids in realistic terms about the influences that are out there waiting to nab their hearts away from Christ. Explain why they are dangerous and suggest ways in which they can avoid them. Discuss openly what immodest dress and behavior does to destroy the holiness of our human sexuality.
- LISTEN to your kids. Ask them their thoughts and impressions about what’s in the media and what they’re observing in the world around them. Be prepared to hear some things you may not want to hear, and take it in patiently and non-judgmentally.
- VALUE your kids – and lead them to value themselves. When our daughters – and sons – truly believe that they are highly valued and loved by God (and by us), they will stop seeking promiscuous ways to garner the love they crave. “You’re way better than that!” spoken with loving sincerity has a far greater influence than, “There’s no way you’re leaving this house dressed like that!”
Mothers and fathers play a vital role in the way their daughters view themselves sexually, and in the way their sons view women. When we take that responsibility seriously and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, our little girls will stop choosing the “sexy” paper dolls and choose the modest ones instead.