By: Diana Bello Aristizábal
Sex and childhood are two words that should never be together. However, currently, the line that divides them is getting thinner. This wanted to portray the film Cuties, released in Netflix on September, that, although questionable, put on the table the issue of child hypersexualization.
Hypersexualization is the tendency to define the value of a person based on her or his sex appeal. In children, it has to do with them adopting patterns and values ??of a sexual connotation that are not appropriate to them because of their age.
In the film, this is shown in the character of Amy, an 11-year-old girl who has a premature sexual awakening after joining a group of girls who do twerking. Quickly, what begins as a dance practice, triggers inadequate behaviors that are set in social media.
The French movie is so explicit that it created a movement in social media of people concerned about the way in which teenage actresses were “exploited” to portray the sexual behavior that many children are engaged into today. Even the promotional poster showing scantily clad girls in sexual poses was strongly criticized.
But beyond the discussion around the film, for many a misguided attempt to raise awareness about child sexualization, it’s imperative to evaluate what we are doing as a society to instill sexual behaviors in children who should be enjoying their childhood instead of wanting to copy adults.
We can’t ignore the fact that we live in a world in which sex has been exalted in an excessive way and in this reality children are also involved. They too sing reggaeton with their explicit lyrics, go to concerts where artists display sexual conducts, and watch TV shows in which sex is the predominant subject.
Is the solution to this problem canceling Netflix as many did after the film was released, banning the use of social media, or boycotting reggaeton? Do parents have the power to reverse this reality so that we have healthier children? These and other questions are discussed below.
Social media and its role of “babysitter”
Music, movies, and television, used up by both adults and children, have always been highly influenced by sex. In the 60s, 70s, and 80s, although reggaeton and social media didn’t exist, rock, salsa, and pop had lyrics alluding to sex, while TV shows and movies told stories with sexual content.
So why is this more predominant today? The simplest answer is censorship or, rather, the lack of it. In past decades, the content of a sexual nature was not easily accessible to minors. Songs with sexual lyrics were censored on the radio and television was less explicit in the family segment.
For Sabina García, a psychologist and family and couple therapist, all this changed with social networks that are now reachable to children. That alone wouldn’t be detrimental if it wasn’t for the fact that a wide variety of content can be viewed and posted on them without much control.
For this reason, platforms such as TikTok are being used to a great extent by children and tweens who upload videos in which they dance in a sexual manner or wear tight clothes, oftentimes before silence witnesses adults.
“Children are being guided by what they see on social media. A 9-year-old girl, who is at a very impressionable age, sees another girl dancing sensually with tight clothes and wants to be like her in order to gain social acceptance,” García says.
Sometimes it is the adults themselves who promote this type of behavior by asking them age-inappropriate questions, such as whether or not they have a romantic partner or telling them that at their age they shouldn’t be playing with dolls. “A girl enters social media, sees what people are talking about there and thinks that perhaps she should be having a boyfriend instead of playing with dolls,” adds García.
The problem turns worse when there aren’t adults around to help the child process that information. Quite the opposite, it is very common for parents to focus so much on their work that they somehow desensitize to the content their children consume.
In this sense, social networks and even television are not the problem but rather the lack of parental control and the tendency to use these platforms as babysitters that “educate” and entertain children in the absence of adults.
The most concerning part is that oftentimes children access social media at ages when they lack the level of maturity to do so. It is not recommended to provide a cell phone to a child under 12 years of age or give them unlimited access to social networks.
This doesn’t mean social media is to be banned. Instead, adults should be next to their children to help them assimilate what they see. “It’s about having an open conversation, monitoring what they do on social networks, and teaching them what is allowed and what isn’t on those platforms. Explain them, for instance, it’s not allowed to send nude photos or videos,” she says.
Parents, the real educators
In such a sexualized world, the antidote is open dialogue around sexuality and body image. “You have to teach children the anatomical names of their private parts and that no one can touch them. Also, talk with them about the songs lyrics and explain what is considered appropriate and what is not for their age,” García advises.
With regard to music, it is recommended to elaborate on the difference between dancing in a sassy way and making obscene dance moves, understanding that the word “sexy” should not be part of a child’s vocabulary nor should it be measured based on this.
As adults, we should teach both boys and girls that the value of a person doesn’t lie in their sensuality or physical beauty, but rather in their intelligence, goodness at heart, ability to work as a team member, or in their willingness to help others.
“Sometimes kids have low self-esteem because everyone around them is focused on how they look. If parents were more focused on their values ??instead of wanting them to mature quickly, they would be less exposed,” adds García.
On the other hand, it’s imperative to talk with them about consent, the importance of always respecting the word ‘no’ and saying it when necessary, and to ask permission for something as simple as tickling someone else.