The downside of today's cultural influences

Sexually graphic messages are all too prevalent,
and they can do real damage to young minds

By Jean Colvin, Communications Director, Wisconsin Youth Company, on Monday 9/13/2011

Raising children can be a very worrying business. There is their health to worry about. Are they eating enough vegetables? Are they getting enough exercise? There's their school work to worry about. Did they do their homework last night? Did they do well on that spelling test? Then there are concerns about family time. With soccer and music lessons and scouts and birthday parties, when can you find time to be together as a family?

Another thing that parents worry about is if their children are growing up too fast. A five year old sings sexy song lyrics that she learned from her ten year old brother; fourth graders send love letters and form couples; eight year olds dress like prostitutes. Media and popular culture convey graphic messages to young people about sex and sexiness. More and more parents are concerned about the sexualization of young children.

In 2007 the American Psychological Association (APA) released research about sexualization that showed that it has negative effects on cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, sexuality and attitudes and beliefs. Parents can turn off the TV, confiscate the Ipods and not buy revealing clothing for their little girls. But that won't stop the influence of culture. These images and ideas are so pervasive. But there are things parents can do.

  • Make sure your kids are exposed to genuine, caring, affectionate relationships with family members and friends.

  • Build a relationship with your child that is supportive and establishes trust so they will feel they can come to you when they have questions about the sexual images they are exposed to.

  • Answer their questions about sex honestly and appropriately so they can understand things that may confuse them and can have the correct information.

One of the recommendations to come out of the APA's 2007 report was to "encourage positive extracurricular activities that help youth build nurturing connections with peers and enhance self-esteem based on young people's abilities and character rather than on their appearance."

Wisconsin Youth Company's AFTER SCHOOL programs strive to do just that. Our staff are caring adult role models who provide a variety of age-appropriate activities, active games, arts and crafts, cooking and science, music and drama and homework help. Kids are supported and encouraged to try new things and pursue their own interests. AFTER SCHOOL is the kind of good old fashioned fun that lets kids be kids. Visit the Wisconsin Youth Company website to learn more.

ON THIS TOPIC: Diane Levin Ph.D. is coming to Madison.
She is the author, along with Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D., of So Sexy So Soon: the New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids.
Levin will speak Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Memorial High School Auditorium, 201 S. Gammon Road. Tickets are $10. For more information or to register online visit the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association website.
This program is presented by Wisconsin Early Childhood Association, the City of Madison Early Childhood Education Office, Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin, Madison Metropolitan School District, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, Inc., and Wisconsin Youth Company.

This story is written and presented by Wisconsin Youth Company, which provides quality before- and after-school care, summer day-camp and travel camp experiences and family travel adventures. WYC exists so that the children of Wisconsin benefit from communities that nurture them at a sustainable cost.

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