Are Kids Losing Their Childhood?

K - KIDS
A - ARE
G - GETTING
O - OLDER
Y - YOUNGER

Last night I watched the documentary, Sext Up Kids by Doc Zone.  If you have not had the chance to view this documentary, I highly recommend that you take the time to give it a watch.  The documentary explores the hyper-sexualized world that kids are growing up in. It makes you question…are kids missing out on childhood?

In a world where technology easily accessible and consumers are becoming younger and younger, children are struggling to create a healthy identity for themselves. They struggle with understanding the difference between public and private. The problem stems from the fact that consumers are marketing sexualized products, such as clothing that mimics adults, to children. Children are constantly being reminded of highly sexualized representations of stars that they look up to.  The Internet can be a scary place for children. Especially when they are not aware of the risks or the implications of their actions.

So, what can we do?

Teach children about digital identity.

The reality is kids are accessing technology from a much younger age. With technology comes the unpredictable world of the Internet.  We are naïve to think that children aren’t living in a world where they have more exposure to hyper-sexuality and inappropriate material. Basically, they are exposed to too much, too young. Therefore, I believe adults have the responsibility to teach children safe use of technology. It needs to be taught by parents, educators, and other role models that children look up to because without this guidance, children grow up in a world where they feel pressured to look and act a certain way. This can lead to them making poor decisions online that can be extremely detrimental. Children need to understand that anything they share online becomes public and essentially becomes a part of their identity.

Help preserve childhood.

If students are growing up in a world where they are exposed to too much too soon, how can we help preserve their childhood? I think it starts with creating a positive balance at home.  If children are allowed unlimited time with technology that is not being monitored they are going to grow up with unrealistic and problematic expectations of themselves.  Sext Up Kids discusses how children are accessing pornography at a much younger age. Consequently, it can overshadow their lives.  It becomes the norm for boys to grow up watching and talking about porn and as a result they develop this fixated idea of sex. Pressured by this idea to be sexy girls are becoming the targets dressing provocatively at a young age.  These mixed messages of how they need to look combined with social media and texting pressures teens to think and act in alarming ways. Are the days when children played kick the can or rode their bikes to get ice cream after school part of the past? What can we do to make sure they don’t lose their sense of childhood?

Recognize the problematic aspects of media.

Media plays a big role in the way children are growing up in the world. Social media, magazines, and advertisements are all sending unrealistic messages to youth.  Boys are growing up in a world where they are learning to treat girls as sexualized objects.  Girls are constantly being pressured to appear a certain way. The argument can also be made that there is a double standard between what it means to be a girl or a boy.  Consider this article by the Daily Life that questions, “why is it that only girls are permitted to enter the playground of gender fluidity?”  Although this article is somewhat unrelated to the documentary, I think the important part is teaching kids to view media with a critical lens. Somewhat related is this article by the Cool Cat Teacher that discusses the idea of being “not just a girl.”  Most importantly, and definitely easier said than done, is teaching boys and girls to feel empowered and to be who they are NOT who media wants them to be.

As I reflect on my thoughts about this documentary, I have come to the realization that I am no farther ahead. I have identified the problems with growing up in a hyper-sexualized world where technology can be damaging to the lives of children, but I have so many more concerns than answers. Do you think hyper-sexualization will progress in the next ten years? What can be done so youth are not pressured to look and act older than they actually are?

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14 thoughts on “Are Kids Losing Their Childhood?

  1. Thanks for sharing, Ryan! I appreciate your concern that kids are getting older younger. I also felt that way during my internship when my grade 6 girls would come to school for dances wearing fancy dresses, high heels, and makeup! I find it strange to compare this to own grade 6 days when I wore loose jeans, t-shirts, and a low messy ponytail every day. Even for my grade 6 grad, my outfit consisted of a blue t-shirt, a long black skirt, and sandals.

    It’s startling to see how young our students feel the need to portray themselves as sexy, and I definitely think this has to do with the media. I like how you pointed out the importance of recognizing the problematic aspects of media. I think it’s really important that we teach our students the critical thinking skills they need to break down the media messages they see and challenge them. I also like that you mentioned empowerment; I think critical thinking definitely empowers our students.

    It’s tricky to stop youth from feeling pressured to look/act older than they really are. I struggle with this because I wonder: who am I to decide on benchmarks for my students? There’s no right answer or correct time for when girls should start wearing makeup or more revealing outfits or when young people should start sexting or having sex. We can’t be the “morality police” or the ones who decide when students are ready to do something; we have to let them make those decisions on their own. I think some of the most important things we can do are to teach them critical thinking skills, to inform them about issues so they can make educated decisions, and to make them feel valued for who they are (not how their bodies look).

    • Thanks Raquel. You definitely put things into perspective when you say that as teachers we cannot be “morality police.” At the end of the day, all we can do is teach students to be aware and critical of the world they live in, beyond that, they have to live with the decisions they make at the end of the day. I think the other reason I struggle with this topic is because although we can discuss the importance of critical thinking, I still think I feel pressured by media to look a certain way. The reality is that this is the society that we live in and at some point, everyone is influenced one way or another.

  2. Hi Ryan,
    I was having a conversation with someone around sport and the feedback athletes sometimes receive from their parents. The argument was that even if a game has evolved, sometimes (with the best intentions) our parents like to revert back to how things were done in the “good old days”. I find that educators we also are guilty of this. We start anecdotes with “when I was in high school/elementary school/that age we did this… or that… or the other thing”. We sometimes don’t account for the fact that the world is changing as we grow older. I have read a few posts now that demonstrate concern about how to prepare students for the world that surrounds them. In order to do so, we have to realize the reality these students belong to was not the reality that we lived. Is it fair then, to develop strategies based on or lived experiences? In this case, instead of deciding what is best for students, would it be helpful for students to tell us what best for them?

    Thank you for your post. It really made me think.

    • What a great analogy Tori. I remember in high school playing volleyball and hockey, my dad would always compare how the sport was different “back in his day” and the argument was irrelevant to the way the sport was being played when I participated. I think we have to remember this in many areas of education. The way we teach will not be the same way we were taught because the world IS evolving. Maybe this is the reason I am struggling with understanding what I can do as an educator because I don’t have the experiences to be able to formulate the answers. Thank you for your insight. I appreciate the various perspectives on this topic because it allows me to unpack my thoughts.

  3. I agree Ryan that it is tough to find solutions to these issues. My 5 year old asked me if she could have a phone a few weeks ago and got upset when I laughed at the request. She also said that she wants to start doing things without grownups. Which freaked me out at first. When I asked “like what”, her explanation kind of sheds some light on part of the problems we often blog about. She said, “I don’t know like walk to the park, or ride my bike by myself to my friends house”. I do not consider myself a helicopter parent and Lucy can’t even ride her bike solo yet (that just makes me a sh*#$y parent), but she wants some autonomy to be able to do things that I did at her age without my parents thinking twice about it. So I think we need to do all the things you suggest in your post, but maybe parents, me being one of them, need to allow the kids to get out and be kids.

    • I definitely think you make a valid point about parenting, even though I am not a parent myself. However, I also wonder if the nature of the world we currently live in restricts parents from allowing their child to “just be a kid” like you recall doing. Your main concern as a parent is to protect your daughters and maybe the reality is that the world we live in doesn’t allow children as much autonomy to be able to go out on their own.

  4. Thanks Ryan, excellent thoughts.

    I want to draw on both Raquel’s and Tori’s points: namely how we can’t be morality police, and also, how to design programs for current student needs, not from past lived experience.

    Kids are seeing more porn at a younger age. Kids are receiving messages and advertising encouraging them to become sexy at a younger age. We recognize that these things can have a detrimental impact on emotional and social development. Okay. So let’s tackle the problems.

    Kids, especially adolescents, are learning boundaries, and they push to see what sorts of things they can get away with. You hide something, or make it forbidden? You better believe they’re going to find a way to get at that thing. That’s the nature of childhood (and it hasn’t changed).

    Solutions are complex and multifaceted. However, here are some keystones:

    1) Progressive sex ed. This includes:
    a) Teaching consent in the negative sense (how to say no, and how to respect when people say no) and the positive sense (the idea of enthusiastic consent, and how to say yes). Both sides need to be taught equally to all students, regardless of gender.
    b) Making healthy choices for yourself. Abstinence, condoms, the pill – these are not solutions, these are tools. Students need to be made aware of tools, taught the benefits and drawbacks, and also taught to make good decisions for themselves. Remember: children rebel. Strict orders from the top are ineffective. Supportive guidance and mentoring are effective.

    2) We need to cut the stigma. As long as we refuse to talk about sex and sexuality, it remains taboo. Taboo is necessarily attractive to kids (again, rebelling, pushing limits). By making it mundane (this includes not being shocked and appalled when kids see porn) it becomes less attractive, which allows for safer, more intelligent decision making.

    3) Frank, honest, and level playing field discussions. Think about smoking. There are laws, there are strict rules, but the dangers are well known and communicated, and no one is ashamed to discuss smoking and the risks involved. As a result, youth smoking rates have been dropping for decades (Page 17 has some great graphs: http://www.tobaccoreport.ca/2015/TobaccoUseinCanada_2015.pdf ). A similar approach can be used around sex and sexuality.

    I know that what I’m saying is controversial. That’s because these topics are still taboo, ruled by moral thinking, and often have a strong dose of religious or cultural norms tossed in. There are no right answers here. But there are more intelligent, less emotional approaches, and I think they have a greater chance of success for improving the quality of life for Canadian youth.

    • Thank you for your thoughts Zachary. You made some point that I never directly highlighted that I think are important. Specifically how when we neglect to talk about these controversial and sometimes uncomfortable issues, they become more attractive for children. Also, if we present this information in a lecturing way (trying to be the morality police) as opposed to an open conversation, students will feel influenced to rebel. As you said, that is “the nature of childhood.” I guess my only question is if these critical conversations are best for our students, how do we start? Why have we not been educated on how to address these topics in our undergraduate degree? I think it is one thing to recognize this needs to happen in the classroom, but another thing to have the knowledge to be able to actually do so. Thanks again!

  5. Hey Ryan! Great post! We tend to agree and post similar thoughts! I was quite shocked during internship and seeing girls in middle-school way more dressed up that I even was. This increasing hyper-sexual behaviour worries me. Not only as a teacher, but as a future mother (far-future haha). There are massive concerns that I have in both of these roles. Looking at young girls role-models (Nikki Manaj, Katy Perry, etc), its no wonder that hyper-sexuality is on the rise. This is seemingly infiltrating as the norm. This is not ok and completely unrealistic.
    As teachers, our job is going to be overwhelming. I honestly think within the next ten years it may get worse. That being said, it may head in the opposite direction. Maybe with increased recognition of this hyper-sexuality, parents and teachers will be able to have open discussions. Also, one can dream that maybe one day the media will catch on and do their part to help!

    • Thanks Larissa! I always appreciate your comments. It gives me some validation on my blog posting! You make an interesting point about the fact that maybe with the increase of critically analyzing media, it will change for the better. We can only hope!

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