Hooper: For young girls, role models more crucial than ever

After my bid to make my high school's freshman football team came up short, and before I joined the high school newspaper, I enjoyed some halcyon afternoons in the quiet of my home.

With my mom and dad still at work and my siblings in college, I had the house to myself — which meant I could turn up the tunes. I listened to Heatwave, the Eagles, Steely Dan and Earth, Wind and Fire all while decompressing after a long day of algebra, English and carrying around a silent crush on that cute girl I always saw in the 600 building.

I relaxed, allowed the peer pressure to subside and got lost in album covers, lyrics and liner notes.

There's a much different after-school experience for today's youth — especially girls — as they navigate the minefield of texting and technology.

Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus, the makers of a new documentary called Sexy Baby, described how today's youth feel pressured to give up that down time. Instead of hiding in the bedroom, they're compelled to constantly connect with friends through Facebook and Twitter.

"Now there's this 24-7 pressure to put yourself out there," Gradus said on Today. "(Pressure) to get likes on Facebook which, for the most part happens if you put a sexy photo up."

According to the Sexy Baby website, the documentary reveals that: kids consider pubic hair unsightly and gross, most youngsters know someone who has emailed or texted a naked photo of themselves and many kids have accidentally or intentionally had their first introduction to sex via hardcore online porn.

Gracious.

The Today segment on Sexy Baby hit a personal note because it aired just days after I viewed Miss Representation, a documentary about how the media unfairly portray women and girls. The Junior League of Tampa screened the film at Tampa Theatre.

As the father of a daughter who just turned 11, the discussion and the film reminded me — once again — about the pitfalls that lie in a society that sends out far too many messages about youth, beauty and sexuality. It resonated because the risks are well-documented. Oversexualization can lead to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and even eating disorders.

What's a parent to do?

I say start by setting limits. Computer access needs to be curbed, and if your kid creates a Facebook page, you need to be included as friends.

Elizabeth Bell, chairwoman of women's and gender studies at the University of South Florida, says its important for moms and dads to pick their battles. She suggested that it might be unwise to dictate exactly what your daughter can and cannot wear, but it would be smart to set boundaries.

"With girls, teenagers feel its important to make their own choices, but it's important for them know where parents and adults draw the line," Bell said. "Some of the sexualization — the makeup and clothes and shoes — is going to be young people participating in the culture.

"But other things, how much cleavage or how much leg they show, are good examples of drawing the line."

During the Today segment, psychiatrist Gail Saltz stressed the importance of creating a dialogue, explaining to your children why you're setting limits and understanding why they feel compelled to go along with the crowd.

Saltz also added it's important to be a good model for your kids. That advice reminded me of a story told to me by a teacher, who said she had to send a student to the office for being inappropriately dressed. When the mom arrived, the teacher looked at what she was wearing and completely understood the daughter's poor fashion choices.

Bell advocates challenging the shows, companies and advertisers who continue to add to the problem with unattainable standards of beauty and messages that promote image over intelligence.

The website for Miss Representation, missrepresentation.org, includes an entire page on how to take action. Challenging the culture may seem futile, but it's too important not to try.

From my perspective, you have to be engaged and involved, and there may be no better way than watching television and movies with your daughters. Stress the positive role models and explain why you abhor the negative insinuations of The Bachelor.

Start today, because clearly our kids need more than old '70s music to deal with the modern culture.

That's all I'm saying.

Hooper: For young girls, role models more crucial than ever 10/25/12 [Last modified: Thursday, October 25, 2012 4:30am]

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