Exposed to overtly sexual messages all around them, our tweens are growing up too early and can be harmed by exposure to sexual images and messages that are too mature for them.
In the video games they play, the television shows they watch, the older kids and siblings they are influenced by, girls and boys in the tween years—roughly age nine to thirteen—are inundated with sexual themes that are likely going to confuse them and send them the wrong messages about sexuality. In a piece on CNN, a score of child development experts weigh in on the harm these messages can do and how parents should respond when confronted with these uncomfortable tween situations.
One mom said she has seen and heard her 10-year-old son and his friends talk about the size of the women’s breasts and the men’s private parts in the video games they play, in addition to the six-pack abs of male characters.
“They’ll zoom in on one of the guys and say, ‘Look how big his private parts are,'” the mom told CNN. When the 10-year-old asked her when he was going to have a six-pack, “I told him ten-year-olds don’t have six-packs,” she said. “He says he can’t wait until he’s twelve so he can work out on the adult floor of the gym. I try to stress that being healthy is the most important thing.”
Diane Levin, Ph.D., coauthor of “So Sexy So Soon” and professor of education at Wheelock College in Boston, said that kids are getting the message that their value as a person is determined by their appeal to the opposite sex and buying the right things and looking the right way.
Various studies have revealed that girls who are obsessed with their appearance are more likely to start smoking, become depressed, and develop an eating disorder, while teen girls who value themselves for their sexual attractiveness are more likely to do risky (read: stupid) things like have sex without condoms because they are afraid to assert themselves, focus less on academics and be less physically active.
For boys, when they feel they the need an attractive girlfriend and be sexually active and tough to be accepted and thought of as cool, they can easily become depressed if they feel they don’t measure up.
“When kids judge each other based on their looks, they don’t learn how to have caring, connected relationships,” said Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D., coauthor of So Sexy So Soon. “Both boys and girls may be at risk of developing body-image problems and loss of self-esteem if they strive to look sexy when they’re still too young.
Experts say the good news is that tweens are still young enough for their parents to have more influence over them than their peers and the media, so continuing to talk to them and get them to see where their thinking is wrong or harmful can go extremely far.