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Provocative clothing can cause long-term harm to kids, expert says

Provocative clothing can cause long-term harm to kids, expert says

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Experts say too sexy, too soon is too much.

Retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle are under fire for marketing undergarments like thong panties and push-up bras to tweens.

As kids get ready to go back to school and parents shop for their growing children, they're bombarded with provocative clothing. A belly shirt on this rack, a peek-hole blouse on that rounder, and jeans or pants with provocative writing folded on tables in front of the stores. To keep the peace or perhaps to make their kids happy, some parents will acquiesce and purchase some articles of clothing that may not quite suit their sense of values, taste, and style.

"I think we have a society that has all of these things readily available to our girls," said Heather Johnson, BYU adjunct professor. "A lot of the times, parents are so worried about being liked by their children that they forget that we're their parents. It all comes down to whether or not we as parents choose to engage."

Consumers want to blame the media, but Johnson said parents ultimately have the last word.

In 2007, the American Psychological Association reported that the sexualization of girls is a broad and increasing problem and is harmful to girls. It's seen in movies, video games, music videos, music lyrics, and magazines. Experts associate the images with long term psychological damage.

"Those types of things set our girls up for horrible situations like eating disorders, low self esteem, depression issues," said Johnson. "All of that can come from putting our little girls in advance situations that they're not ready for."

Johnson says young girls are extremely impressionable.

"If we're letting our 6-year-olds watch shows where kids are in high school and they're dating and have boyfriends and dressing more provocatively as they get older," said Johnson, "then that's what our 6-year-olds are going to want to do and dress like."

Just like adults, young girls want to be loved, be accepted by friends, and want attention. So as young girls watch these images, "it puts girls in such a vulnerable position and makes it so appealing to be like what they see," said Johnson.

If parents allow their young girls to fall into these so-called media traps, "We are showing them that who they are is not important," said Johnson, "but that what they wear and what they have -- be it a larger chest or their stomach showing -- that that is what's important."

All of that, said Johnson, can come from putting little girls in advance situations that they're not ready for.

"We're putting them in such awkward situations where they don't have the mental or physical capacity to handle what's going to come at them," said Johnson. "And as a result, they'll either make poor choices or damaging choices physically and mentally that will hurt them forever."

At face value, consumers want to blame the media, but Johnson said parents ultimately have the last word.

"As parents we have the experience to foresee where the decisions young are going to lead them as they get older," said Johnson.

"But we give them choices within the boundaries we've set and we have to stick to those boundaries. If we deviate, we open up doors that we don't want to open up."

Johnson also recommends parents not allow their young girls to go shopping by themselves, and to set an example.

"If we're listening to provocative things and dressing out of character for our age," said Johnson, "our girls are going to pick up on that. So we need to be very focused on how we are appearing, first."

Perhaps the most powerful tool of all to combat this trend in sexy retailing to young girls is monitoring their media consumption.

"We have to monitor the television and the music," said Johnson. "We have to turn it off. Turn it down. And make it age appropriate."


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