Guest commentary - Catholic News Service

22.jpgHere are my four concerns about raising a girl in today's culture: Britney, Paris, Linday and Barbie.

ACCORDING TO A recent report by the American Psychological Association's Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, my worries are justified. "Throughout U.S. culture and particularly in mainstream media, women and girls are depicted in a sexualizing manner," says the report, available online at www.apa.org/pi/wpo/sexualization.html.

In the Feb 12 issue of Newsweek: 'The Girls Gone Wild Effect'. Newsweek examines if there are any long-term harmful effects of Britney, Paris and Lindsay's bad behaviour on young women.

Haven't they always been? Yes, but this part is new: The girls are younger, and the sex is sleazier.

For example, the age for playing with Barbie and wanting her impossible proportions has come down from preteen to preschool. In a Washington Post article titled "Goodbye to Girlhood", journalist Stacy Weiner interviewed Adelaide Robb, director of inpatient psychiatry at Children's National Medical Center.

A decade ago new eating disorder patients entered the programme at around age 15. Now girls come in as young as five or six. TV's influence is particularly powerful since, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half of American children age four to six have a TV in their rooms. In her article, Weiner quotes Sharon Lamb, a psychologist and contributor to the APA report.

"The issue is that the way marketers and media present sexuality is in a very narrow way," says Lamb. "Being a sexual person isn't about being a pole dancer. This is a sort of sex education girls are getting, and it's a misleading one."

Pole dancing? Yeah, like the kind Lindsay Lohan is taking lessons for to prepare for her new movie role. But do those tabloid stories about the axis of wild girls (Britney, Paris and Lindsay) really lead a pre-teen (or younger) girl down a pole-dancing path? Quite possibly.

This month's Newsweek cover article on "The Girls Gone Wild Effect" offers just enough evidence to make a mother of a three-year-old girl like me want to raise a family somewhere in the country without paved roads or Internet access.

Kathleen Deveny of Newsweek reports that a study published last year in the journal Pediatrics concluded that for white teens (black teens are less influenced by media, according to the report), "repeated exposure to sexual content in television, movies and music increases the likelihood of becoming sexually active at an earlier age. Specifically the study found that 55 percent of teens who were exposed to a lot of sexual material had intercourse by 16 compared with only six percent of teens who rarely saw sexual imagery in the media".

But before you pack up for the country too, know this: Parents influence their children more than anyone else, and that begins in babyhood. Preschoolers, grade-schoolers, tweens and teens learn values and morals from the role models closest to them: parents, teachers, friends and TV. The more time you spend with them, then, the more you influence them. Unless the children are earningtoo much allowance,  parents usually hold most of theconsumer power. Which means  they can say 'no' to buying the fishnet stockings their six-year-old wants to wear to school (like her idol Britney) and 'no' to the pole-dancing lessons and video. 

(This commentary is written by Therese J. Borchard of Catholic News Service.)

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