North American girls are increasingly being force-fed a steady diet of products and images that pressure them to be sexy. From clothing to cartoons, choreography to commercials, the rampant emphasis on sexuality undercuts parents’ efforts to instill purity and self-esteem in their daughters.

The American Psychological Association (APA) warns that this sexualization of girls is harmful to their self-image and healthy development. "[Girls are] experiencing teen pressures at younger and younger ages. However, they are not able to deal with these issues because their cognitive development is out of sync with their social, emotional and sexual development," the APA reported.

The proliferation of sexual images also undermines a girl’s confidence in and comfort with her own body. In fact, research links sexualization with three of the most common mental health problems diagnosed in girls and women – eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the specific cultural influences bombarding our daughters.

Suggestive fashion

Have you shopped for girls’ clothing lately? Toddlers to teens are inundated with adult-styled fashions. Pop singer Beyoncé now has her own trendy clothing line that introduces the red-light district to the school lunchroom.

Popular clothing items among teens include thong underwear and shorts displaying suggestive words across the backside. The abundance of racy clothing emphasizes the message: Dress sexy.

Tarted-up toys

As young girls, most moms probably owned Barbie® dolls and enjoyed collecting their clothing and accessories, including the coveted convertible car. Mattel® today takes style to a new level with the introduction of Black Canary Barbie for adult collectors. Designed as a comic-book character, this doll is dressed in fishnet hose, a leather bikini bottom and a black leather jacket. She’s available in toy stores, right next to Ballerina Barbie. Explain that to your preschooler.

Mattel isn’t the only toy manufacturer selling dolls that look as though they belong in a brothel. MGA Entertainment® produces Bratz dolls, complete with heavy makeup and skimpy clothing. These dolls are marketed to young girls, who are undoubtedly too young to comprehend the toys’ sensuality even as they seek to imitate it.

Pop-culture icons

You can’t walk through the grocery checkout aisle without being bombarded by the latest shenanigans of young celebrities. The lives of Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan fascinate young girls. The Hannah Montana phenomenon, while seemingly innocent at first, has been coloured by provocative photos of teenage actress Miley Cyrus. The media push young starlets to quickly move beyond "precocious and cute" to "sensual and sexy." All the while, impressionable tween fans stand by in wide-eyed wonder, wanting to be just like them.

Who’s to blame?

While it’s easy to blame the media and corporate marketing for these poisonous influences, we also need to scrutinize ourselves. How many of these influences have we allowed into our homes? Are we modelling a healthy Biblical view of gender and sex? If we fret over our physical appearance or enjoy media laden with sexual images and innuendo, chances are we will pass on the same mindset to our daughters.

We must take a fresh look at what messages and images enter our home. While it would be impossible to shield children from every damaging influence, we can certainly take a stand against the worst offenders. And we can inoculate our kids against the world’s counterfeit sexuality by talking to them about God’s good plan for men and women.

Our culture tries to convince our daughters that they amount to nothing more than the sum of their parts. Only by addressing this lie head-on will we equip our children with the Truth. Our daughters need to know that God’s standard for beauty is the only standard that matters.

Protect your daughter

  • Avoid sexually suggestive clothing fads. Help your daughter embrace her innocence and not rush the fleeting season of girlhood.
  •  Allow only those toys that align with your family’s moral standards. If you won’t allow your daughter to wear racy clothing, avoid toys that encourage that.

  • Guard what enters your child’s mind. Carefully choose the TV shows she watches, and watch with her. Research movies and song lyrics online for language or sexual overtones ( Install Internet filtering software to guard what comes into your home.

  • Help your teen discern acceptable behaviour. Lead her in praying for people whose private lives are made public in the media.

  • Nurture your daughter’s self-image. Remind her often that she is precious and made in God’s image.

Vicki Courtney is the founder of Virtuous Reality Ministries, which encourages young women to take ownership of their faith and identity in Christ.

© 2009 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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