REALITY CHECK: Thongs undies for preschoolers, periods at 7, push-up bras at 8, Botox at 16 all add up to missed childhoods if we don’t start parenting! Why we must put brakes on our children’s “too hurried, too fast, too sexy, too soon” lives so they can grow without missing out on just being kids. Some thoughts I shared last week on CNN.
One thing’s for sure, it certainly is a different world and our kids’ lives are on a fast track. It’s almost as though they are living in an X-rated world when they barely made it out of a G rating lifestyle bombarded by sexually-explicit movies, clothing touting “adult-only” messages, sexually-charged pop music, mature-rated video games, and provocative “way before their years” type fashions.
What’s more, consumers are developing products aimed straight to them so they want that fast-track lifestyle. And that explains why this month there was outrage directed at Abercrombie Kids (an offshoot of Abercrombie and Fitch, the popular fashion brand).
Many parents are upset by the store’s retailing of a padded bikini top–called the “push-up triangle” now changed to the “striped triangle”–and aimed for girls as young as eight.
(Why oh why would an eight-year old (or 9, 10, 11, 12…) possibly need to show off her cleavage? Think what that purchase says to a child: “Breasts are important, sweetheart, and the bigger the better!”)
So let’s continue.
Data also shows that for the past few years, teen girls have been begging parents for Botox injections (around $300 to $500 per pop). A hot new teen craze is now Sweet Sxteen birthday party requests for Botox injections. The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (who christened the craze, the “teen toxing trend”) reported that almost 4000 more Botox procedures were performed on teens 18 and under in 2009 than in 2008. [See my blog, More Teens Getting Botox].
And the newest high school girls’ graduation present request: “Breast implants!”
Childhood is a terrible thing to lose. There is no rewind button and there are serious consequences to allowing our kids to be on the fast-forward track.
Dangers of decompressed childhood
Adopting that fast-forward world will affect our children’s emotional, social, and moral development as well as impact their attitudes, values and behavior.
A too fast, too soon push decompresses our children’s childhoods so they miss out on developmentally appropriate activities, rituals, and games that are such an essential part of just growing up.
Instead they are exposed to serious or sexualized issues that they can’t fully comprehend let alone handle. They are flooded with images and content that could change their attitudes, values and behaviors. Kids begin to adopt the belief that they should be pushing their childhoods ahead faster and sooner and that they should be acting and dressing like teens when they are still tweens or in grade school. That’s why child experts, the medical profession and parents alike are concerned that that relentless exposure to adult-type subject matter is so harmful and so wrong.
A study by the American Psychological Association also confirms what many parents and child experts fear: All those raunchy, sexy, pencil-thin type “What you should look like” messages do indeed have an negative impact.
A five-year study of 2516 teens by the American Psychological Association found that girls who frequently read those dieting and weight loss articles are far more likely to fast, vomit, or use laxatives to lose weight. In fact, the data proved that the more frequently a girl reads those fashion magazines, the more likely she is to resort to extreme weight control behaviors. Those images are also correlated to the rise of young girls eating disorders, lower self-esteem, and depression.
While parents can’t put blinders on our kids or change that outside racy world, we sure can put the brakes on what comes into our kids’ lives. And you sure can put your wallet away and say that glorious two letter word, “NO!”
8 ways to help kids retain childhoods
Don’t throw up the white flag! There are solutions! Here are ways to help children develop at a pace geared more appropriately to their chronological age so your son or daughter won’t grow up too fast and can experience those glorious days of childhood that they need and deserve.
Get to be a know-it-all
Before you approach your child to make any change, you need to do your homework to understand your child’s fast-forward world. So…
- View a few TV programs that your child’s peers watch.
- Catch the latest Reality TV show, flip on MTV and notice those grinding dance numbers and provocative outfits
- Listen to the latest pop lyrics and the words and content
- Flip through CosmoGirl, Teen Vogue, OK, US, or Teen People
- Peruse the mall a little closer to check out the latest tween fashions
Doing so will help you recognize the pressures today’s kids are under and help you can decide what limits you want to set for your child.
It’s unrealistic to say no to everything, so where will you draw the line? Be clear so you can clarify your reasons to your child. Doing so will give you a reality check that our kids are being exposed to inappropriate content far too soon and it will affect their childhoods.
Take a crash course in child development
Ask your health care professional for developmental milestone charts your child’s age.
Talk to experts–such as teachers, pediatricians, and yes even grandparents–who understand normal childhood development
Join up with like-minded parents who want to let their children have childhoods and start talking!
Your commitment to slowing the accelerated pace of your kid’s childhood will be reinforced by understanding how destructive a fast-forward world is to your child’s emotional, moral and social development.
Let your kid be a kid: Bring back P.L.A.Y!
According to a University of Michigan study on how kids ages 3 to 12 spend their time, over the past 20 years there has been a drop of 12 hours a week of free time overall, with unstructured activities like walking or camping falling by 50 percent—and structured sports going up by 50 percent. [See my blog, 11 (Not So) Surprising Benefits of Play].
Take a serious look at your child’s schedule and scan her list of daily activities.
Is there anytime left for those cherished childhood traditions like play, make-believe, forts, unscheduled time and sand castles?
Don’t buy into that modern day American parenting myth that “push-push-push” is “better-better-better” for your child.
There is no proven scientific advantage that support that consumer-driven nonsense that parents should accelerate their kids performance (from kicking a soccer ball to reading).
Play is not a luxury but an essential for our children’s social, emotional, moral, physical and cognitive growth.
Make sure that your child has time to just be a kid. So what’s the rush?
Insist on developmentally appropriate material
Let’s face it, the culture is pushing our kids to grow up faster and they do act older than their actual age. Puberty is starting earlier and kids do look more mature. But “looking and acting” grown-up doesn’t mean your child is developmentally ready to handle that fast-forward world. Here are actions to take:
- Set your rules and expectations based on your child’s actual chronological age.
- Tailor your decisions on what is developmentally appropriate to your child’s current emotional, cognitive and physical stage. (Check child development guides)
- Lay down certain “Rites of Passage” or ages your child can go to her first sleepover, use the computer alone, obtain a cell phone, see a PG movie, shave her legs, wear makeup, pierce her ears so she has something to look forward to.
- Utilize the suggested age guidelines for games, toys, sports equipment and books.
- Use the age rating system for video games, movies, CDs, television shows. Recognize that panels of credentialed child development experts spend hours reviewing each product before providing posted guidelines. When in doubt, listen to those CD lyrics. Play the video game first. Watch the movie. Take control on what your child is watching and listening to!
- Make your rules set your values as well as normal childhood development and based on your child’s actual “chronological age,” not “physical appearance.”
- Lead your child toward age-appropriate and healthy hobbies and interests. Think swimming, horseback riding, theatre, soccer, knitting, band, scouting, 4H Clubs, and church groups that focus on healthy outlets that are developmentally suitable.
- Do a quick “healthy media test”: Walk around your home and pick up the magazine your daughter is most likely to read. Flip it to a few pages. Would those images nurture or hinder her self-esteem? If “hinder” is your answer, then it’s time to alter that subscription.
Hold the line on that sexy look
These days fashions-aimed at kids are outright provocative and clearly push the age-appropriate limits. Makeup. Short skirts. Halter tops. Press-on nails. Lip gloss. Thong-underwear. See-through blouses.
The “come-hither look” attire clearly is selling “sexualization” and luring our kids into a far too early and unhealthy focus on appearance with an R-rated twist.
Pick your battles when it comes to fashion, go ahead and allow choices, and don’t worry so much about “style”, but hold a clear line when it comes to fashion with a look equated sexy. Regardless of the onset of puberty (which is hitting our daughters earlier), your nine –or whatever age–child is still nine.
While you’re at it, know that toy makers are designing new long-legged, doey-eyed looking female dolls in slinky outfits ready for the hot-tub for our preschoolers.
Set your standards to your children’s chronological–not physical–age.
Start those “grown up talks” earlier
Let’s face it—kids are exposed to more grown up issues at far younger ages. Studies show that drinking, sexual promiscuity, engaging in oral sex, depression, eating disorders, stress, peer pressure, puberty, and even acne are all hitting our kids three to four years earlier than when we were growing up. So don’t deny your child’s fast-forward culture and wait to discuss those “grown up” subjects you planned for the teen years. If you’re not talking about these tougher issues believe me your child’s friends most likely are.
Be the one who provides accurate facts that are laced with your moral beliefs and values.
Also make sure your child’s doctor is someone your daughter or son feels comfortable speaking to as well.
Do know that puberty is striking kids at younger ages. A study published in Pediatrics last year found that about 15 percent of American girls now begin puberty by age seven. and your child does needs to feel comfortable speaking to someone—if not you–about menstruation or wet dreams. [See my blog “Puberty Onset Four Years Earlier” published last year].
The closer your relationship with your child, the better able she will be to navigate that sometimes raunchy, racy culture, find alternatives to those sexual messages, and realize it’s okay to be a kid. That’s because your child will seek your guidance and use you as a filter. And you do make a difference.
A 2007 MTV/Associated press poll found that the majority of young people listed their parents as their heroes.
Find more time for your child to connect with you, her grandparents and relatives who can help keep her centered, preserve some ounce of her childhood and value her for who she really is and not how popular or sexy she looks.
Help your son find healthy male role models and can spend time with him and help him learn to enjoy being with himself as well as engaging in healthy outlets.
And above all, stay connected!
A 13 year old typically spends half the amount of time with her parents than at age 10.
Sure, the world these days is more X-rated, but parents have always been an excellent counterbalance to sleaze and raunchiness. Remember you really do influence your child’s attitudes, values, and self-esteem, but only if you choose to use your influence!
Through the decades one parenting truth has never changed: “Children grow up all too quickly.”
But childhoods these days pushed too fast, too early with too much that kids are developmentally unprepared to handle.
Don’t forget one more parenting truth: “A lost childhood can never be regained.”
What’s the rush? The time to stop your child’s fast-forward accelerated childhood is now.
Push the pause button.
Dr. Michele Borba, Parenting Expert
I am an educational psychologist, parenting expert, TODAY show contributor and author of 22 books.
You can also refer to my daily blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Checkfor ongoing parenting solutions and late-breaking news about child development.
Follow me on twitter @MicheleBorba
You can also find dozens more research-based and practical tips for 101 other challenges and worries inThe Big Book of Parenting Solutions.
RESOURCES: University of Michigan study drop of 12 hours a week of free time: Judith Newman “How to Let Kids Be Kids,” Redbook, Aug. 2008, pp. 188-195.
No proven scientific advantage to accelerating kids’ childhoods: Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D., former head of child psychiatry training program at Stanford University and author of The Overscheduled Child: cited by Judith Newman “How to Let Kids Be Kids,” Redbook, Aug. 2008, p. 190.
Reed Larson’s Ph.D. studies families and adolescents at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, results written in Divergent Realities: The Emotional Lives of Mothers, Fathers and Adolescents. He surveyed 483 adolescents with the beeper method and 55 families who recorded their feelings and activities for one week whenever prompted at random intervals by a beeper.: V.Rutter, “Whose Hell Is It? Psychology Today, Jan/Feb. 1995.