Although as early as 1955 Nabokov shocked society with his novel Lolita, the children’s beauty contests so famous in the United States, advertising, the media, music or the recent fashion of beauty centers for children have generated in recent years an unstoppable trend of sexualization of children .

But what does the sexualization of children really consist of and what dangers does it entail? Throughout this article we will talk about this phenomenon and how to avoid it.

What is child sexualization?

On a general level, sexualization or hypersexualization is based on giving a social value to the person which goes in relation to the level of sexual desire that this person arouses . This means that a person considered sexually desirable or attractive is directly attributed greater value or social prestige than one who is not.

Unfortunately, this phenomenon is increasingly being observed in children at an early age. Such is the scope, that in 2001 the English association Mother’s Union decided to make a report about this evidence. In it, child sexualisation was defined for the first time, which was explained as “the sexualisation of expressions, postures or dress codes in underage children”. Furthermore, it also denounces the use and sexualization of minors in advertising ; considering it extremely dangerous for the development of children.

In addition, the American Psychological Association (APA) denounced this propensity to hypersexualize minors in a document published in 2007. It warned of the risks of this child sexualization, which conveys a rather harmful message: the higher the level of eroticism, the greater the benefits and social success.

It is very common to see daily cases in which children integrate as their own a series of behaviour patterns and personal values that do not fit their age range , which tend to represent a false maturity and to prioritise physical appearance and attraction above all.

Although hypersexualization can be seen in both boys and girls, it tends to affect the latter more. In recent years, an increase in female child sexuality has been observed. For example, in many advertising campaigns, in children’s beauty contests or, more recently, in beauty centres for girls.

What are the consequences?

As expected, this trend can have a number of unintended consequences and effects both socially and individually on each child.

The greatest personal aspect that is affected by sexualization is both the personal image and the self-esteem of the children. During these stages, children forge their personal identity and develop self-esteem.

When this development is conditioned by society’s values and tendencies, as in this case with child sexualization, children tend to appreciate themselves and give themselves a specific value according to their physical attractiveness. This is compared to the media’s idea of what is socially desirable or beautiful.

As a consequence, self-esteem is forged on the basis of superficial ideas , temporary and unrealistic; forming insecure people, with low self-esteem, fragile and very susceptible to the opinion of others.

In addition, constant attempts to achieve the ideal appearance in relation to the socially accepted, generates such high levels of frustration that can lead to psychological disorders such as eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorders.

What are the dangers?

In addition to the direct consequences of child sexualization, there are other dangers which, although not 100% present, are always present.

The first risk of all, which can have a great impact on the development of the identity and personality of minors, is the too early transition to adult life . Children adopt a series of roles for which they are not psychologically prepared and are not really able to understand.

This precocity directly affects the self-esteem of minors, who may become unsafe, manipulable and susceptible adults . Furthermore, by focusing so much on the physical aspect, the rest of the areas related to the development of identity are left aside, also creating chronically immature adults.

Finally, a danger has been generated that mainly affects girls and is that they integrate the idea that the female prototype is the idea of the passive sexual object, which nullifies women. As a result, continue to perpetuate numerous sexist stereotypes that end up maintaining and aggravating the problems of gender violence and inequality.

How can we prevent it?

Although it is very difficult to put an end to the sexualization of children , it is up to adults to protect minors from this phenomenon .

The fact that child hypersexualisation is becoming more and more widespread is partly the fault of society, which is used to these images and which watches, almost unmoved, as children increasingly cease to be children.

However, there are a number of things we can do to prevent the sexualization of children, both boys and girls.

1. Review our reasoning and values

First of all, it is necessary to make a critical evaluation of our own values and principles , as these are what we are transferring to the youngest.

If we manage to eliminate all those values or customs that can favour child sexualisation, it will be much easier to educate minors.

2. Educating in values

In addition to reviewing our own values, it is also necessary to educate those of the children. It is also necessary to spread more humane values, based on respect and on the value of the person beyond his/her attributes or physical appearance.

3. Promoting sex education

It is not a question of children knowing more and more about sexuality, but of improving the content and quality of sex education. Talking to them about the body and sexuality will make them more critical and less vulnerable.

4. Media regulation

Call for the regulation of sexual content in the media, such as advertising, television and even music or fashion brands.

5. Teaching to be critical

Since it is difficult to bend the interests of the media, advertising and brands, both children’s and adults’ critical sense must be developed.

Minors must have knowledge of what the society in which they live is like and what it transmits, in order to be able to develop in it as complete persons .

6. Working on self-esteem

To use techniques and tools to improve the self-esteem of the minors, generating a self-concept that takes into account the person in an integral way, not only in relation to the physical aspect .

7. Set an example

Children learn to form themselves as persons by imitation. It is therefore essential that they have at their disposal role models who do not promote or facilitate sexualization at an early age.