Before we packed up the kids and headed east to enjoy a few weeks of cooler weather this summer (fools!), I had my kids in summer programs in Arizona. As an incoming Kindergartener, Annie was now attending “big kid” camp where kids ranged in age from 5 to I don’t know…much older. 10 maybe? In any case, this was a fantastic experience overall: the counselors were young and fun; riding a bus was a thrill; and Annie had a chance to make some new friends and become comfortable with kids of different ages. It amazed me to see how mature and independent she became in a few short weeks. She came home happy and proud of herself every day.
On one particular day she came home begging (I mean seriously – hands clasped, on knees… begging) for me to download the song “Call Me Maybe.” No doubt this is quite the catchy tune – I had been enjoying it with the rest of America myself. But now my 5 year old was on the floor, campaigning desperately for me to add it to our collection:
Annie: “Please Mommy!! I know ALL the words!”
Me: “I don’t know Anne. I don’t really like this song for you.”
Annie: “And I learned the whole dance!”
Me: “Annie, this song is kind of inappropriate.”
Annie: “I learned it at camp.” (And by this I believe she meant that it must be sanctioned).
Me: “Oh, hey….how about this Kidz Bop version?”
Annie: “Nooooo (defeated tears). I learned the whole thing and I want to show you.”
The garage door opened as the song downloaded, and Annie raced to greet my husband at the door.
Annie: “Daddy come quick! This song is really un-appropriate. But you’re going to LOVE the dance!!”
I don’t know if I’d say that I loved the dance. It was awfully “mature.” I love the dancer and her determination, concentration and tenacity. But the dance left me feeling uncomfortable and not sure what I should do about it. Should I say something to the camp directors? What would I even say that wouldn’t have me ignored as a fun-sucking, goody-two-shoe mom? Is the song really that inappropriate? Should I have held my ground at the downloading stand-off? I really don’t know…..“Call Me Maybe” may not be the most over-the-top with the mature messages or overly sexually explicit, but hearing those words sung by my 5 year-old did cause me to pause, yet, I really didn’t do anything about it.
I think some people would argue that it’s the parents’ responsibility to control the media and messages their children are exposed to. I also think most parents would argue – impossible! A recent study published in the journal Sex Roles found that when girls ages 6 to 9 years-old were shown images of sexy vs. trendy, but covered up dolls, 68% of the girls said the sexy doll looked how they wanted to look, and 72% said they believed the sexy doll was more popular than the non-sexy doll. While these findings are alarming and upsetting, they may not be all together surprising. But what struck me as one of the most interesting parts of the study was that “low media consumption” was not a protective factor against early self-sexualization in girls. According to the synopsis in Live Science, authors of the study indicated that “mothers who reported often using TV and movies as teaching moments about bad behaviors and unrealistic scenarios were much less likely to have daughters who said they looked like the sexy doll.”
Assuming this applies to other negative messages and media sources our kids are exposed to, this disturbing study actually left me feeling less hopeless. So while I may have felt a bit defeated with my daughter’s un-appropriate performance of “Call Me Maybe,” I’m committed to taking better advantage of teachable moments with my kids (although I can’t promise I’ll be correcting the grammar).