How Can We Protect Our Kids From 'Reality'

01/03/2016 5:55 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
Singer Miley Cyrus performs at the Barclays Center on Saturday, April 5, 2014 in New York. Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Twerking. Ever heard of it? It's something that most teenage children know about. It involves bending your knees, leaning forward and pretty much wobbling your butt up and down. Oh, and I forgot to mention it's dancing; you do it to music and in a public place.

My daughters, aged 12 and 14, were explaining it to me recently and I was intrigued, not to mention somewhat confused. Was this to them what Dirty Dancing was to my generation? A lot has changed since the days of Baby throwing herself from the stage into Johnny's waiting arms to the words "I've had the time of my life". Now we have Nicki Minaj dressed in chains and a black G-string twerking to "My anaconda don't want none unless you've got buns, hun".

Hmmm... deep.

This got me thinking about the influence of pop culture on my children and how important it is that they understand the difference between sexualisation and sexuality.

In a nutshell, sexualisation refers to a person being sexually objectified, where the standards are imposed by another person rather than by the individual. The media plays an enormous role in creating sexual stereotypes that send the message that to be beautiful, you must display sexual appeal or behavior. For an example of this, we need look no further than the Kardashian family who galvanise sexualisation by ranking body and fashion above all else. The problem is further perpetuated by social media creating a labyrinth for our children to be under the constant scrutiny of their peers and rely heavily on their feedback for validation.

In contrast to this is sexuality, which relates more to the person and their connection to their own desire. It's about connecting to one's identity of being a woman or a man, and then to a sexual feeling. These are two very different concepts where the lines get blurred but must stay clearly defined.

As a mother, I hate the thought of my daughters dressing in a way that makes them the object of pleasure for others, but I also want them to be able to express their own individual identity as women and have a healthy expression of their sexuality.

The questions we must ask are:

1. How can our children figure out how to become sexual beings without being objectified or stigmatised?

2. Do they dress and act a certain way because it makes them feel empowered, or because they feel pressured to fit in?

3. Is pop culture influencing our girls to idealise beauty and thinness, giving the impression that a woman's value is based on her appearance, and that popularity is derived from beauty?

I am often floored at how wide the gap is between my youth and the youth of my daughters, but this is not to say that we don't face the same insecurities and challenges. I can remember dressing to fit in with my peers and then, at some stage, dressing to be the object of desire for men.

The major difference is that our children now rely on virtual 'likes', so much so that the feedback of others determines who they outwardly become and challenges their own personal judgment. I have seen my own children post a photo of themselves on Instagram only to take it down not long after because of the lack of positive feedback.

As adults, we know that the furthest thing from reality is reality television. We know the long-term implications of not being authentic and we know it is highly probable that there will come a day where Miley Cyrus will wish that she had put her tongue back in her mouth and smiled less provocatively when posing for a photo. Unfortunately, our children do not have this wisdom.

As the lyrics go... the times they are a-changin. As parents we must ensure that we stay modern in our thinking and in touch with the pressures facing our young girls. We need to raise proud, confident and intelligent boys and girls that have a strong sense of their self worth, but to be able to do this, we must be mindful of the external influences and pressures facing them today.

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