Kids Growing Up Too Fast, Author Says
October 22, 2008
NAPLES — A 3-year-old throws a temper tantrum when her
mother won’t let her wear a shirt with sparkles, a gift
from relatives who had told her before how pretty she
looks in it.
Seven-year-old girls playing in the school courtyard
bully one classmate for being slightly overweight and
they call each other names.
“Seven-year-olds are calling each other sluts and they
don’t know what it means, and this is rural New
Hampshire,” said Diane Levin, a professor of education
at Wheelock College in Boston, author, and frequent
guest on national television programs about children’s
Levin’s most recent book she co-authored is “So Sexy So
Soon: Protecting Children in a Sexualized Society,” and
she will be the featured speaker at a symposium on the
topic Saturday at Edison State College in Fort Myers. A
panel discussion will follow led by a physician,
psychologist, educators and others. The symposium is
sponsored by Edison College and the Early Learning
Coalition of Southwest Florida.
The program from 8:30 a.m. to noon will be held at the
Barbara B. Mann Hall at the college. Admission is $10
for advanced registration and $20 at the door. Register
online at www.edison.edu/foundation.
Levin also is a founder of the Campaign for a Commerical-Free
Childhood, a national coalition of health-care
professionals, educators, parents and advocacy groups
working to limit the commercial culture focused on
children and to “reclaim their lives from corporate
marketers,” according to the group’s Web site.
Currently the group has filed comments to the Federal
Communications Commission regarding “embedded
advertising” and is asking for a ban of the practice in
children’s programs and other programs where children
are the likely audience.
The FCC is recognizing how embedded advertising, or
subtle ways of incorporating commercial messages in
programming, has become big business and the FCC is
re-evaluating its rules regarding sponsorship
identification and children’s advertising rules.
A recent Nielson report said the first half of 2008 saw
a 12 increase across of broadcast programming with
embedded advertising, according to the commercial-free
From another perspective, $17 billion is spent annually
on marketing to children, the group said in its comments
last month to the FCC.
Levin hears from worried parents about how pop culture
and the bombardment of product advertising are making
their young daughters focused on their appearance and
being sexy, starting with girls as young as 5, and how
that sets them up to believe it is fine for boys to see
them as objects.
In her new book, she offers how the sexualization of
young girls disrupts their ability to develop meaningful
relationships with peers, disrupts their ability to be
empathetic to others and from developing normal sexual
relationships later in life.
“The biggest issue is it is undermining kids’ abilities
to have caring and connected relationships,” Levin said.
She suggests parents try to find a balance with the pop
culture that fill their children’s lives and begin with
a base understanding that they cannot fight it all the
“They can’t make it perfect but they can make it
better,” she said. “Know what is going on. They need to
stay connected to their kids and watch television with
their kids. Have conversations.”
Parents need to let their kids know they can come to
them as a source of information instead of feeling the
only feedback they will receive is being yelled at, she
Exposure to television and video games needs to be
negotiated because the more that kids watch, the more
they need it, she said.
“They can’t play anymore,” Levin said, adding that
teachers say children don’t know how to find interesting
things to do on their own and can’t identify problems
and find ways to resolve them.
Children’s lives can be seen as contained in two
compartments, one being pop culture and the other the
family/societal compartment, she said.
“Right now the pop culture is getting bigger and bigger
and working very hard to crowd out the family/societal
box,” she said.
“The boxes are pretty disconnected. We need to make the
pop culture box as small as we can, but know it is going
to be there, and have the family/societal box larger and
One of the panelists Saturday is Erin Harrel, chairwoman
of the baccalaureate in education programs at Edison
State College and mother of three young children. She is
reading Levin’s book and is finding it insightful.
Parents are constantly giving in to children today
instead of standing firm and that’s led to children
accustomed to instant gratification and the early
sexualization is part of that trend, she said.
Before she began reading Levin’s book, she said, she
found herself and other parents focused on sheltering
their children from the monster consumerism and now sees
the focus needs to switch on open communication with
children, she said.
She hopes people attending the symposium and the panel
discussion will leave the conference with more insight
and understanding of mass marketing and the impact early
sexuality is having on young lives.
“I hope educators and parents alike talk and come up
with ways to cope and how do we, as parents, we need to
make good choices,” she said. “There is no universal
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