by Emily Malone
I decided to read So Sexy, So Soon because I have a 4-year-old daughter who is much too aware of the messages the world is sending her. Having grown up in an overly sexualized climate myself, I started to recognize the tell-tale signs of a little girl leaving her childhood altogether too soon. We’re all aware that teenagers are becoming more and more promiscuous, but we may not realize just how young our own children are when the first seeds are planted. While So Sexy, So Soon is not a Christian book, it is an excellent resource for how even those without Christ see the devastation of a sexualized childhood, and as they say, “what parents can do to protect their children.”
A little background on the book
At under 200 pages and nine chapters divided between (1) informing parents of the almost certain sexualization of our children (both the origins and the ultimate result when they become teens), and (2) proactive means of protecting our children from it, as well as navigating the inevitable issues that arise, So Sexy So Soon is a gripping read. Authors Diane E. Levin, Ph.D., and Jean Kilbourn, Ed.D., partner to combine their expertise on both a sexualized culture and the effects on (very) young children up to teenagers. The result is a well-researched, staggering wealth of stories and statistics that begin as young as preschool and reach all the way into confused teenagers having affection-free, experimental sex.
The sexualization of our children
To begin, Dr. Levin and Dr. Kilbourn discuss how even very young children are overly exposed to sexualized content. Besides inappropriate television shows and movies they might see as a result of parents and/or older siblings, our children are hooked on the idea of masculinity and femininity (or at least the way the world views these gender distinctions) as quickly as they see kid-aimed commercials. In fact, both authors take media and marketers to task for the way they exploit children and their desire to fit in and be popular. The authors purport that these same individuals actually define what it means to be male or female and cool or popular by the way they advertise and appeal to kids: it’s the pretty, skinny doll in the trendy clothes all the girls want and the macho, buff super-hero with five weapons all the boys want.
The authors argue that being overly exposed to these ideas on a daily basis (after all, these kids plague their parents until they get the toy, as well as the accessories and the matching outfit for themselves) leads to emotionally immature children trying to act in sexually mature ways. They cite stories of 5-year-olds flirting and talking of having sex, as well as 8-year-olds whispering about how they will sneak out of the house to get shirts that show their belly buttons like their popular friends have.
How to parent through sexualized childhoods
Just when you want to throw out your TV, move to a compound, and sing “Kumba-ya” until you can arrange a marriage for your child, Dr. Levin and Dr. Kilbourn offer some practical steps you, as parents, can take to control how sexualized your children become.
Please note that both authors are sensitive to the fact that “controlling” your children is not ideal. On the contrary, they simply suggest taking a proactive role in what kind, how much, and when your children are exposed to media. One of my favorite tips they gave was limiting “screen time.” Screen time qualifies as any activity that involves sitting in front of a screen: TV, movies, computers, gaming devices, etc. They suggest setting a time limit per day or week that you, as the parent, oversee. I appreciated this tip as a parent of small children, because, like most parenting, starting early is the most effective way to set good habits.
Another very useful and profound observation they make is not overreacting, especially with young children. When a child talks of sex or other seemingly inappropriate topics at school, parents usually blame teachers and teachers usually blame parents. The authors would argue that neither can be the entire scapegoat in that our children are partakers in a terribly sexualized and objectified society. They can hardly come out unscathed.
Thus, Dr. Levin and Dr. Kilbourn suggest having meaningful conversations with our children. They point out how natural it is for children to wonder and be curious about love, sex, and babies. It is our job as parents to help them make sense of it all, not to punish them or berate them for asking such questions. In fact, they said that when a child seems to have asked a very mature question, the best answer is usually a question in return, such as What do you mean by that? Or What are you thinking about when you say ______? Or (in a kind tone of voice) Where did you hear about that? The less we overreact, the more likely we are to come to realistic conclusions and the more likely our children are to view us as resources for life, rather than enemies who do not understand them.
The same is true for older children and teenagers. As they get older, they are more and more aware that most of the world views them as objects to be had, which we have seen they learned very early. It’s no wonder they engage in sexual activities with virtual strangers—that’s what they’ve been programmed to do through almost every form of media they encounter, and it’s how many of our older children believe they will find ultimate fulfillment (what a shame!). The authors offer age-appropriate tips for talking through, avoiding, and recovering from this kind of sexualization, such as becoming familiar with what’s out there and becoming a voice in your community for media restrictions.
My overall impression of the book
I will say that, for me, it was difficult to process the entirety of the book without the lens of the gospel. While I was encouraged that a secular book was concerned about the sexualization of children, I found it somewhat dissatisfying to not correlate a lost world with need of a Savior.
I think Dr. Levin, Dr. Kilbourn, and I would agree that the world is not the way it’s supposed to be. However, I think that where my solution is reconciliation through the cross of Christ, they would see cultural renewal and just trying harder/being more aware as the aim. They offered several stories and solutions I did not agree with, but overall, I really did find the book eye-opening, and certainly made me more aware of what I am exposing my children to.
As much as I want my son and my daughter to be a light in the world, I do agree that over-exposing them to Barbie and Ken perfection is unnecessary at this point. For example, when I saw my daughter begin to compare and contrast pretty and ugly and become obsessed with princesses, as a result of reading this book, I purged our home of sexualized toys and products I simply had not noticed before. My husband and I partnered in this endeavor to teach our children that their value is in Christ and not in how the world views them. And, for that partnership, I will be forever grateful to So Sexy, So Soon.
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Emily is the mother of two and the wife of a graduate student. She has worked from her UK home as an online curriculum writer and now is a virtual assistant for Speech Privacy Systems and Ergonomics Made Easy. Emily and her husband are trying to think through how to best adorn the gospel of Christ so that their children walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.