Saturday, 14 February 2015

The Sexualization of Early Childhood

Share your reaction to the topic of the sexualization of early childhood.

Children are taught about sexualization as well as gender stereotypes and expectations early on. With that said, while reading “So Sexy So Soon”, I was discouraged, but not entirely surprised by the information given. Sexual representations are depicted everywhere we look. In commercials, movies, television shows, magazines and even children’s books and media segments intended for children. This week’s article explains that there is a difference between sex and sexuality versus sexualization. “When people are sexualized, their value comes primarily from their sex appeal, which is equated with physical attractiveness” (Levin & Kilbourne, 2009, p. 4). We have all heard the harm and confusion that beauty magazines cause for children. They aspire to look like perfect photo shopped models and feel insecure and inferior when they do not. It is amazing to think that cartoon characters are just as easily impacting the way in which children see themselves in comparison to media portrayals. “Long before very young children are aware of or have words for what they are doing, they internalize a profound sense of “rightness” and familiarity with the particular way the people in their culture behave” (Derman-Sparks & Olsen Edwards, 2010, p. 58). It is important for us as educators to understand that by preschool age children are beginning to develop group cultural identities and other social understanding. This can be a very delicate, confusing and abstract process especially for those children who do not closely match the “dominant culture ideal” (Derman-Sparks & Olsen Edwards, 2010). This cultural ideal can easily be associated to the way in which a specific sex should look or act.

Provide three or more examples, from your personal or professional experience, that further illustrate the exposure of young children to a highly sexualized environment. Explain the implications this may have on children’s healthy development. Include ideas you might have, as an early childhood professional, to best respond to these concerns and to reduce the negative impact on children.

When I was teaching a grade two class, I was shocked at hearing some of my young female students singing Rihanna’s song S&M, while doing a very risqué dance in the hall. They were obviously mimicking what they had seen watching a music video. I think that parents need to not only filter what young children are exposed to, but have open discussions about what children are seeing and doing openly. I have seen many media examples such as beauty pageant television shows for children such as Baby Beauty Queens or Toddlers and Tiara’s. These children are wearing skimpy clothing, tons of makeup and embodying artificial beauty (fake hair extensions, air brushing etc.) these young children are being subjected to sexualization at such an early age and they are showing other children that this is the expectation for them as well. Exposure to this sexualized expectation can impact and impede on a child’s healthy development for various reasons. “Such lessons will shape their gender identity, sexual attitudes, values, and their capacity for relationships, for love and connection that they take into adulthood” (Levin & Kilbourne, 2009, p. 2). Finally, even the dolls and shows intended for young children offer very stereotypical and highly sexualized examples to young girls about what they should look like and how they should act. Both educators and parents need to be aware that these messages are being received by young children and that they could be consciously and unconsciously affecting their view of self and their opinion of themselves and others.

Describe the ways in which your awareness of the sexualization of early childhood has been influenced and/or modified by studying the topic this week.

As I mentioned, I have been aware of the sexualization of childhood for quite some time and it is something that we discussed within other courses as part of this program. This week’s resources and assignments, however, made me think about the way in which sexuality and sexualization has evolved through media representations. How the expectations have changed and therefore the way in which gender norms are perceived have changed as well. Sexuality is much more overt in today’s media, however, I believe that the messages and expectations have always been there. All of the examples I referenced above related to female children. I do not know if this is a coincidence, if I am more sensitive to female sexualization because I myself am female or if female children are targeted more often. This week’s tasks made me reflect and ponder this question as well.


Derman-Sparks, L., & Olsen Edwards, J. (2010). Anti-bias education for young children and ourselves. Washington, DC: NAEYC.

Levin, D. E., & Kilbourne, J. (2009). [Introduction]. So sexy so soon: The new sexualized childhood and what parents can do to protect their kids (pp. 1-8). New York: Ballantine Books. Retrieved from:


Anonymous said...

You are right, our children are more exposed to sexual contest and sadly most of them are just acting how they see grownups acting as well. I can see how you felt when you saw those young girls singing and dancing the way you described. I have those experiences as well with my students and students from other classes. “An eight-year-old boy comes home and reports to his father that he didn’t know what to do when his friend showed him pornography on the Internet during a playdate at the friend’s house” (Levin & Kilbourne, 2009, p. 1). In one occasion, I found the same girl I described in my blog with a boy, she was on top of him and when the teacher asked them what they were doing, she told the teacher she was playing “mommy and daddy” for her that was a normal thing because she sees her parents doing it, but how far can this go on? Sadly, most of our children are being target of a society that is going too fast and does not care too much of what our children can see on TV.
Levin, D. E., & Kilbourne, J. (2009). So sexy so soon: The new sexualized childhood and what
parents can do to protect their kids (pp. 1-8). New York: Ballantine

Edith Flinn said...

Hi Rhiannon,

Your statement on parents not knowing what their children are watching is so true. At one time when families watched television as a family and a commercial came on displaying sexualization parents could explain it to their children to help them understand what sexualization really is. More so all the different examples you use do show young children that this is the way you are to look. For example, before I moved to Georgia I taught as a paraprofessional and I was working the lunch duty at the time and three African American first grade girls were waiting in line to go to lunch when I overheard two of them ask the third little girl why her mother dressed her like a baby. For this reason I turned to look at the girls to see what they were talking about. The little girl that they were talking to looked perfectly find to me. She had on nice pants, a cute top, and two ponytails, with barrettes that matched her clothing. However one of the other little girls had on a short skit bratz’s outfit with some leggings, and the other little girl had her hair down curly, and a skirt outfit as well that should have had something underneath.

Therefore through the media sexualization and the two girl’s families since they are the ones buying, and dressing their girls, these two young girls have conclude that unless other little girls are not just like them at this age, then they are not dressing age appropriate. “Gender roles modeled for children have become increasingly polarized and rigid. A narrow definition of femininity and sexuality encourages girls to focus heavily on appearance and sex appeal. They learn at a very young age that their value is determined by how beautiful, thin, “hot,” and sexy they are” (Levin & Kilbourne, 2009, p. 2).


Levin, D. E., & Kilbourne, J. (2009). [Introduction]. So sexy so soon: The new sexualized childhood and what parents can do to protect their kids (pp. 1-8). New York: Ballantine Books. Retrieved from:

Tierra Jackson said...


You provided supportive examples of this week's topic on sexualiation. I also wrote an example pertaining to the show 'Toddler and Tiara's.' I think it's sad how young girls are introduced to such sexualized behavior, clothing, and mannerisms at such an early age. Let's continue to provide positive support for self worth and identity as EC professionals.

Tierra Jackson

Royce said...

I also agree with you on your blog and the I am not a fan of Toddlers and Tiara because those mothers are exploring there daughters. They need to let them babies be little girls not with all of that make-up and hair extension it's just too much. Then you got those men looking at those babies , I just don't like when using toddlers to act grown up and pracing up and down the runway.
We need to be more positive in little girls life not using them as beauty pagents.

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