On the eve of Halloween, many young girls are choosing overtly sexy costumes. Imagine a 5-year-old dressing up like Rihanna. Scary... frightening... ghoulish, indeed.
I honestly cannot even remember when I first heard the word “sexy,” and learned what it meant. Young kids today, however, learn the power of looking “hot” and “sexy” before they learn to read many times. While I firmly believe that most mothers love their children and would never intentionally harm them, I invite them to consider the potential dangers of early sexualization through inappropriate dress.
Psychosexual development is a precarious thing…and it can be damaged in the same way alcohol, cigarettes, and malnutrition can harm a child’s physical health. Allowing children to dress provocatively before the age they can deal with the consequences can be dangerous. Young girls are not yet equipped to deal with the consequences of “flexing their sexual muscles.” Responsibility comes with any power; so, until your child can understand appropriate and inappropriate sexual attention and activity, consider allowing them to dress in a fun, safe, age appropriate costume.
There are parents out there who not only allow, but also encourage, their young daughters (and sons) to look “hot” and “sexy” in their Halloween costumes. There are mothers who dress their daughters like rock stars, celebrities, and super models in bikinis, mini skirts, fishnets, heels, and padded bras. Unfortunately, marketers of the fashion industry take advantage of the belief that “Girls have to be sexy.” Girls buy it, and boys buy into it.
The potential danger in sexualizing and objectifying children is three-fold:
Children naturally want attention, and negative attention is better than none. Children naturally want to please their parents and others who are bigger, older and perceived as more powerful, and many will comply to appease. As a parent, you are responsible for setting healthy boundaries, ensuring, as much as you possibly can, the qualitative nature of attention your child receives. Many times, sadly, the early sexualization of children reflects the unfinished sexual business of the parent. E.g., when a mother dresses her 4-year-old daughter like Madonna, it is more about herself than the daughter. A 5-year-old cannot handle sexuality any more than a 5-year-old can bench 300 lbs. Insisting that they do, in either of these cases, is abusive.
A common argument is that children are too young to understand sex or its repercussions. Childhood is a sensitive period where the brain’s neuroplasticity is imprinting stimuli at a ferocious pace. Their psychosexual development is at work. Seeds are being planted and growing. They may not suffer any repercussions in the moment, yet the negative effects appear later on. Indeed, they may not know what sex is or have the proper vocabulary yet for being ogled or fondled or worse, but they know reinforcement/attention.
Here are some tips for fostering healthy sexual development: