Teaching Kids About Sex (Part 3)

There are few situations that fill parents with more dread, confusion, and anxiety than talking to kids about sex. Thankfully, Sharon Maxwell, Ph.D., author of The Talk: What Your Kids Need to Hear from You About Sex (Penguin), offered to give us a hand and answered questions about the issues that have Cookie staff members freaking out.

My 6-year-old daughter wants cleavage. She has actually told me, "Mom, I want this shirt to be down here [pushing her T-shirt collar down] so it can show that part (showing her breast bone area) like yours does. That's pretty." How does she know that cleavage is considered attractive? I don't show cleavage. I don't even have any cleavage. Additionally, the babysitter says that my daughter stares at her boobs all the time. How do 6-year-olds figure out that boobs are "interesting"?

Your daughter is surrounded by a culture that assigns attention and power to this thing we call "sexy." We think that because our kids have not experienced the hormonal changes of puberty, they don't pick up on these messages, but they do. Very young girls are being taught that "shaking their booty" is a way to make people pay attention to them and to gain prestige among their peers. I've had an 11-year-old in my office in tears because she thought she needed a "boob job." Marketers are actively pursuing kids of all ages with the importance of looking and acting "sexy."

There are many problems with this picture, not the least of which is that our daughters are putting aside other vital aspects of their development to pursue this thing called sexy. Being the smart girl or the talented girl or the athletic girl is less appealing than being the sexy girl. The American Psychological Association has linked the early sexualization of girls to eating disorders, depression, and low self-esteem. Little girls need to hear from us that cleavage and all that goes with it are for when they get older.

I love the line "In our family...," as in, "I understand that you might be hearing a lot about being sexy. In our family, we believe that all this sexy stuff is for when your body begins to change into a grown-up body. Your body is a child's body, so you don't need to waste your time thinking about cleavage and sexy stuff. If you hear about that stuff in school, I hope you will come to me so I can tell you what it's really about." Pay attention and listen, see what else she knows and has heard.

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