The sexualization of young girls has numerous effects on mental health, identity, and sexuality. However, as a a parent, you can positively shape your daughter’s development throughout the critical ages and stages of her life.
There’s a chance you might remember the rumblings in the news about the American Psychological Association and their groundbreaking discovery that the proliferation of sexualized images of girls and young women in advertising, merchandising, and media is harmful to girls’ self-image and healthy development.1
When I heard it on the news, I stared at my TV in total disbelief and mumbled, “Nah! Ya think?”
The study took aim at everything from sexually salacious ads to the tarted-up dolls popular with young girls. Every type of media was fair game, including video games, music, bombardment of sexual images found on television and online.
That was in 2008.
Over a decade later, the sexualization of young girls still occurs through a variety of media and online outlets. However, recent studies and updated research paint a slightly more alarming picture than previously shown.
Sexualization of Young Girls
Sexualization was defined by the task force as occurring when a person’s value comes only from her/his sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics, and when a person is sexually objectified, i.e., made into a thing for another’s sexual use.
While the overall finding of these studies may not come as a surprise, it should serve as a wake-up call for parents who have somehow rationalized that it’s a battle not worth fighting. Take a look at some of the fallout these studies continue to confirm.
Cognitive and Emotional Consequences
Sexualization and objectification undermine a person’s confidence in and comfort with her own body. This can lead to emotional and self-image problems such as shame and anxiety. Also, the cognitive consequences go beyond what you might able to see. Not every negative effect reveals itself in a physical change.
Mental and Physical Health
Research links sexualization with three of the most common mental health problems diagnosed in girls and women. Often, this can include — eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression or depressed mood. Also, it’s worth noting that most of this research focuses on girls within important developmental ages and stages.
Research suggests that the sexualization of girls has negative consequences on girls’ ability to develop a healthy sexual self-image.2 This directly ties to a girl’s personal view of her identity and how she relates to friends, family, and strangers. Furthermore, it’s important to note the relationship between a healthy biblical sexual identity and a young girl’s mental health. At critical ages and stages like these, sexual development on a girl’s identity is a monumental topic for your daughter.
Parents: Problem or Solution?
According to the task force report, parents can play a major role in contributing to the sexualization of their daughters, or they can play a protective and educative role. Furthermore, the study acknowledges that parents may actually contribute to the sexualization of their daughters in a number of ways.
One way is to convey the message that maintaining an attractive physical appearance is the most important goal for girls. Unfortunately, consistent negative comments surrounding your daughter’s appearance deprive her of your love and approval. Instead, patterns like this leave your daughter confused rather than valued.
Before we look at ways to protect our daughters from sexualizing messages from the media, we must first examine ourselves. Instead, the goal is to see if perhaps we have propagated a damaging message. If outer appearance is important to you personally, you might have passed the same mindset to your daughter.
Final Thoughts on Preventing the Sexualization of Your Daughter
Hopefully, after reading you will have a better grasp on why God tells us that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and further wants us to “know that full well” (Ps. 139:14). Also, it may even be necessary to go to your daughter and apologize for the part you may have played in emphasizing outer appearance to an unhealthy degree. I have certainly had to own up to this in the past with my own daughter.
Next, we need to put our daughters on a media diet. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to shield them from every damaging influence. But, we can certainly draw a line in the sand when it comes to the worst offenders. Finally, check out the resources below for a list of the worst offenders and tips on how to limit your daughters’ consumption and exposure to the damaging lies they generate.