When Jon-Benet Ramsey was kidnapped and killed, the media spent quite of bit of its attention focused on her parents and Jon-Benet’s involvement in beauty pageants. Some in the media speculated that the over-sexualizing of Jon-Benet led some pedophile to take her from her home, abuse, and kill her. Turn on the TV show “Toddlers and Tiaras” and you will find itty-bitty little girls strutting across stages, faces painted with make-up, flirting with the crowds, and performing suggestive dance moves in tiny little outfits. While some pageants are appropriate and some pageant parents have healthy and well-adjusted children, there are others taking this phenomenon over the top and are risking the welfare of their children.
Society would tell us sexuality is fluid. Research shows something quite different. Gender differences, boys being different from girls, is a highly researched and supported topic in the field of psychology. Watching little boys play in elementary school (race cars, good guy/bad guy games, sports, wrestling) looks very different than watching little girls in elementary school play (tea parties, house, school). We also know that men are sexually excited by sight and women are sexually excited by romance and relationship. At early ages, like those in the TV show mentioned above, toddlers don’t think about their dance moves as being seductive or sexual. They simply know what they are taught. They most likely believe “sexy” means cute or funny. Until late elementary or early middle school (depending on what goes on in the home and when the schools teach sex education), they don’t even know what sex means. At the late elementary school or early middle school age, sex is supposed to be about mechanics. How to do it. The emotions and relationship that are supposed to accompany the act of sex are not even considered. Boys think girls have cooties and girls think boys are gross. It isn’t until puberty the other issues surrounding sexuality/sensuality is learned or experienced.
Here are some risks of pushing sexuality/sensuality too soon:
- A child’s brain is not ready to make sense of what they are learning
We should not push our children to grow up too fast. Pushing sex on them too soon pushes their under-developed brains to try to make sense of things it can’t. Research is showing most peoples’ brains are not fully developed until the age of 25, with some studies saying as late as early 30s.
- A child may learn to base with worth on outward appearances
A child’s worth should be based on who she is, not how many pageant titles she’s won, what she looks like on the outside, or how much her clothes cost. To take a toddler or elementary school girl and put hair extensions in her hair, coat her face with make-up, and then have her perform to win the approval of others sends the message that she couldn’t win without things. She may internalize that to mean she is not pretty enough without those things. That is not a healthy message to send to any child, regardless of age.
- The child may act out sexually/sensually
The child may rely on what they’ve been taught to get what they want. If a child has been taught to dress suggestively and act suggestively to win the approval of a judge, it is hard for them (especially at younger ages) to distinguish between that and any other person. As that child grows, he/she may turn to those skills to win the approval of others. Acting in sexually aggressive ways with a boyfriend or girlfriend may put the child in dangerous circumstances in which they may be taken advantage of or abused.
- The child may become a target for pedophiles
This may sound crazy, but it is unfortunately true. People who are sexually excited by children are a very real threat. They search out their sexual gratification often by searching websites, watching children’s TV shows, or visiting places children frequent (shopping malls, pageants, playgrounds). Children whose dress and play are more sexually suggestive have big targets painted on their backs and are at higher risk.