First of three parts.
Five-year-old girls play with dolls that wear bikinis, sit in hot tubs, and mix drinks.
Nine-year-old girls twerk their bodies in rhythm to sensual music.
By 17, even though their bodies aren’t fully developed, girls undergo cosmetic surgery to increase their bust size.
What happened to childhood?
Despite economic and educational gains made by women in the past generation, a strong cultural message remains that they exist merely to be visually pleasing to men. Many media images that cue women on how to look and act have devolved from the pornography industry.
Kids today are exposed to pornography — any pictorial or written matter designed to cause sexual arousal — at earlier and earlier ages. Once verboten verbiage and visuals are commonplace today on pay-movie channels, cable television, streaming networks, and even local antenna stations. But the major threat to morals is online media. The mind of a 6-year-old with a smartphone in his or her possession can be easily corrupted, according to Lori L. Warning, director of Assemblies of God National Girls Ministries in Springfield, Missouri.
“Kids can’t go very far without having this type of infiltration into their mind, eyes, and ears,” says, Warning, 47. “They’re being told this is the way to act.”
Girls don’t have to view hardcore pornography to be under its sway. They are manipulated by consuming multiple forms of media, which results in them taking desperate measures to try to be noticed in school, social settings, and even church. Girls feel pressure to conform to an unwholesome appearance in an effort to be liked.
Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok, and other social media sites encourage displays of selfies — and most church-attendees are participating.
“Girls think they become more popular because of the number of followers, shares, comments, and likes they have,” says Warning, the mother of two adult sons. “It has become a barometer of continual competition of who can outdo the others.”
Young girls also are taught to relate through eroticism in their attire and mannerisms. The messages they get from the internet, TV, movies, music, fashion, and advertisers is that to be feminine is to be hypersexualized.
“They think if they show more of their body around friends they will gain approval,” Warning says. “They aren’t able to rationally process thoughts.”
Studies indicate when girls become sexualized at an early age, they suffer more from eating disorders and their academic performance falls. They are more likely to engage in premarital sexual intercourse and with more partners.
Girls sometimes resort to placing inappropriate photos on social media as well as sexting images of themselves via a cellphone as a way to seek attention. Indeed, many young people have come to consider pornography a benign recreational pursuit.
But when a girl realizes she never can measure up to expectations to have a perfect body, self-loathing and depression often results. Kids exposed to improper images and videos erroneously begin to correlate love and acceptance with misplaced sexual conduct, Warning cautions.
“Our bodies are designed to respond in a very physical and sexual manner, but also within the boundaries God created,” Warning says. “When these emotions are stirred too early, they don’t have the maturity to respond and handle that well.”
Warning, who spent 2½ years as a counselor at James River Church in Ozark, Missouri, says she saw many young women trying to develop healthy relationships after earlier usage of porn.
Jody E. Dyess, student outreach and awareness director for F.R.E.E. International, a faith-based organization that fights human trafficking, discusses exploitation at school assemblies. Dyess, who is based in Brandon, Mississippi, points out that students who sext nude photos of themselves to other classmates are guilty of self-producing pornography. Those who keep such images on their phones and send them to others can be charged with possession and distribution of child pornography, according to Dyess, 50.
“A lot of it is self-produced, or coerced by someone to make a kid do it,” Dyess says of sexting.
The best defense for a sex-obsessed youth culture is parents who talk openly with their children about what Scripture says regarding beauty and character.
Sam Black, vice president of business development at Covenant Eyes, a screen accountability software company based in Owasso, Michigan, says parents need to start educating children early about boundaries with adults as well as peers.
Black, who has a grown son and daughter, also encourages parents to have age-appropriate conversations with their young children about why restrictions are placed on television viewing and why some apps aren’t allowed on devices.
“Parents worry if they talk to their kids about sex or porn it will ruin their innocence,” says Black, 52. “In reality, they are protecting their innocence. We can train our kids to actively take part in protecting their innocence.”
However, parents must walk a fine line between safeguarding children and allowing them to grow up, according to Jay Mooney, executive director the past eight years of COMPACT Family Services, the AG child welfare agency based in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
“Shielding kids works when they are little, but adolescents have to have enough room to make their own decisions,” says Mooney, who earlier spent a combined 12 years leading the AG’s national Youth Alive, then Youth Ministries.
Parents must be transparent with their own transgressions and calmly listen to their child’s responses, according to the 58-year-old Mooney, the father of three daughters and one son. Parents also need to play an active role in modeling behavior by not watching highly sexualized TV programs or movies, he says.
Experts say a key in reversing the societal sexualization trend is for fathers to be involved in the lives of their daughters. Psychologists say girls who have an insecure attachment to their father while growing up are more likely to act out sexually as a way to cope.
Often the distance begins inadvertently, when the girl begins to blossom physically, a critical point in her life when she needs affirmation. Suddenly, many fathers stop hugging their daughters and quit displaying any sign of affection. That distance can cause a void for attention, which makes a girl look elsewhere.
On the other hand, parents may inadvertently communicate expectations that girls should embody the appearances, attitudes, and behaviors exemplified by sexualized adult women. That can start by placing devices in the hands of their children too soon, Warning says.
“We can assume wrongly that because children live in a technologically driven world they can handle more than they really can,” Warning says. “We foolishly assume because they are talking about these things that they also understand them.”
Dyess, who has two grown daughters, warns parents not to encourage their children to grow up too fast. A scantily dressed 4-year-old girl posing seductively for Instagram is fodder for pedophiles cruising social media sites, he warns.
However, Dyess advises that children can be savvy when it comes to covering their tracks.
“Any app in which a message can be deleted is a dangerous app,” Dyess says. The potential list of covert apps includes Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Talk Now, What’s App, Kik, Telegram, and Whisper.
“The devil is fierce and he is attacking our children,” Warning says. “The porn industry targets smartphones in the hand of a child.” She says a child playing an innocuous game on an app can in one click be taken to a hardcore porn site where someone is ready to “chat.”
National Girls Ministries has discipleship resources designed to ensure kids understand their identity in Christ as well as the difference between temptation and sin.
Next: The dangers of pornography to children.