Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Little Girls Gone Wild

Here is an interesting article that starts with the story of an eight year old dressing inappropriately in a public setting. The problem is not just that young girls are dressing in things that are not even appropriate for teens and young women but that parents endorse and support this behavior. While corporations can market and influence buyers, the bottom line is there would be no emerging market for 'sexy' little girls apparel if parents just said "no" and meant it. The article makes some great points. Here's an excerpt:

And then I realize as creepy as it is to think a store like Abercrombie is offering something like the "Ashley", the fact remains that sex only sells because people are buying it. No successful retailer would consider introducing an item like a padded bikini top for kindergarteners if they didn't think people would buy it.
If they didn't think parents would buy it, which begs the question: What in the hell is wrong with us?
It's easy to blast companies for introducing the sexy wear, but our ire really should be directed at the parents who think low rise jeans for a second grader is cute. They are the ones who are spending the money to fuel this budding trend. They are the ones who are suppose to decide what's appropriate for their young children to wear, not executives looking to brew up controversy or turn a profit.
I get it, Rihanna's really popular. But that's a pretty weak reason for someone to dress their little girl like her.
I don't care how popular Lil' Wayne is, my son knows I would break both of his legs long before I would allow him to walk out of the house with his pants falling off his butt. Such a stance doesn't always makes me popular -- and the house does get tense from time to time -- but I'm his father, not his friend.
Friends bow to peer pressure. Parents say, "No, and that's the end of it."
The way I see it, my son can go to therapy later if my strict rules have scarred him. But I have peace knowing he'll be able to afford therapy as an adult because I didn't allow him to wear or do whatever he wanted as a kid.
Maybe I'm a Tiger Dad.
Maybe I should mind my own business.
Or maybe I'm just a concerned parent worried about little girls like the one I saw at the airport.
In 2007, the American Psychological Association's Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls issued a report linking early sexualization with three of the most common mental-health problems of girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression. There's nothing inherently wrong with parents wanting to appease their daughters by buying them the latest fashions. But is getting cool points today worth the harm dressing little girls like prostitutes could cause tomorrow?

It a bit humorous but makes some sobering points. You have two choices: (1) be the parent; (2) let the child be the parent. And it's good to see a dad being a dad one these issues. Above all, as I've said before, Dads should be the ones concerned about what their little girls are wearing. 

The parents job is not to get the child everything they want. The parents job is to instruct their children and instill virtue in them so that they do not follow the zeitgeist. It is true that the parents bear the responsibilities for raising their kids and saying "no." However, one cannot under estimate the power that culture can have when young kids are seen as markets for products that used to be considered limited to late teens or adulthood.

In their book The Narcissism Epidemic,  Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell write:
"Until recently, parents consider it their responsibility to deal with these emotional storms by standing their ground. Many of today's parents instead seek to raise children high in self-admiration and self-esteem, partially because books and articles have touted its importance. Unfortunately, much of what parents thing raises self-esteem--such as telling a kid he's special and giving him what he wants--actually leads to narcissism...Parents who want to stick with the older model of child rearing that downplays materialism and emphasizes politeness and discipline are swimming against the cultural tide."  (p73-74).
And:
"It's also not good news for parents who tell their little girls they are princesses ("How's my princess today?"). Although girls have always liked to play princess dress-up, complete with sparkly pink dress and shoes, it's now common for girls to carry this fantasy beyond dress up time and believe they are modern royalty. The kind of parenting that leads to narcissism--putting your child on a pedestal and overpraising--could be called "princess parenting."
Many parents intend princess parenting to lead to good outcomes: your little girl will think she's the best, so she'll succeed in life and blow off the loser guys she'd otherwise bring home. Given that narcissism leads to failure and to relationship problems, this is unlikely to work. Instead your daughter might end up thinking she's so special that she deserves to be treated like royalty--a perscription for narcissism, and considerably less amusing in a teenager than in the baby you first called "princess."...Even if you don't practice princess parenting, little girls somehow absorb the princess idea out of the ether of our culture." (p.80-81).
There is nothing wrong with your girls playing a little dress up and even dressing up like the occasional princess. But this is a far cry from treating them with a sense of entitlement where parents give so much deference to the child that the child runs the house. 

All parents want their children to succeed and become self-confident and assured. We want them to enter healthy relationships instead of unhealthy dependencies. I have a feeling that this is the type of outcome {self-assured and confident} that many parents think they are cultivating when they let their young children wear the kinds of things described in the first article:
Her beautiful, long blond hair was braided back a la Bo Derek in the movie "10" (or for the younger set, Christina Aguilera during her "Xtina" phase). Her lips were pink and shiny from the gloss, and her earrings dangled playfully from her lobes.
You can tell she had been vacationing somewhere warm, because you could see her deep tan around her midriff thanks to the halter top and the tight sweatpants that rested just a little low on her waist. The icing on the cake? The word "Juicy" was written on her backside.
Yeah, that 8-year-old girl was something to see alright. ... I hope her parents are proud. Their daughter was the sexiest girl in the terminal, and she's not even in middle school yet.

Allowing kids to where whatever they want, especially clothes that accentuate their figure and draw attention to "me, me, me" will only cultivate and encourage the growing narcissism. Rather than producing kids who are well grounded and morally responsible--it does just the opposite. Given a child what they want, just because they want it, actually makes them more vulnerable growing into less-than-well balanced adults. Letting a young child wear what they want because it makes them look "hot" is a prescription for the child's undoing not the path to their mature confident adulthood.

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