The role of parents and other adults responsible for the welfare of children
At about 9 or 10 years of age, children begin to detach themselves from their par- ents and look to their peer group for validation. They are exposed to diverse influ- ences and subjected to many social pressures, which can have an impact on their behaviour and the attitudes they have towards parental rules. At this time, parents can begin to feel that they have less influence over their children and that they are losing their parental authority. Confronted with this “commercial machine”, as well as the influence of peer group pressure, they may feel that any action they take will be ineffective and might be tempted to abdicate their parental roles.
Early sexualization is a social phenomenon, making it incumbent on everyone to prevent and counter this trend. It is, however, parents and other adults responsible for children who must take the lead to encourage their children to develop critical thinking when exposed to the commercialization of sex.
Parents are primarily responsible for the education of children. Consciously or not, each parent promotes certain values (those that are meaningful to them) to instruct their children.These values influence parents' speech, gestures and actions during their child's developing years. They are also reflected in the rules they establish to shape their child's behaviour.Children will be raised according to these values and will either accept or challenge them throughout their formative years.
We feel that parents must take a stand regarding the phenomenon of early sexua- lization. It is necessary for them to reaffirm their personal values to their children not only by what they say, but more importantly through their daily actions. This will help to reassure children; giving them clear guidelines and helping them develop their own critical judgement.
This guide concerns girls, between 8 and 12 years old. Girls and boys of this age are both faced with the pressure of early sexualisation but are affected in different ways. In this guide we will explore the specific repercussions that girls must deal with. We hope that the impact of early sexualization on boys will be the subject of a future guide.
For each reaction, we present parents with an example of a response and a course of action to follow. We do not want to impose predetermined and inflexible responses. We know that every family; each parent and each child are unique and that the relationship between parent and child has distinctive characteristics as well. We also think that all parents or adults have the right to take some time for reflection before responding to a child.A short period of introspection is often nec- essary to adequately respond to your daughter's questions or comments.
Seven scenarios have been chosen inspired by real life and linked to early sexual- ization. As a parent, you may have lived through one or more of these situations. Please note that the language used to describe or comment on these situations is in some instances frank and direct, and may be shocking to you. Nevertheless, it is the language heard in the schoolyard and we encourage you to read the entire guide to familiarize yourself with the vocabulary.
Following each suggested response and course of action, the guide provides some information about the development and needs of girls. The impact of the parent's reaction on their daughter is put into perspective as well.
We hope that the information in this guide will be of use to you and your family.
In each example, a girl expresses a desire or a comment to her mother or father.We have imagined three possible reactions on the part of the parent, reactions that you may have had in a similar situation with your daughter.
Lilia Goldfarb, Coordinator of the YWCA's research project on the early sexualization of girls.