How Can I Protect My Tween From Sexualization?

Teenage girl applying mascara
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Sexualization, when used in relation to tweens and children, typically refers to the process of emphasizing the sexual nature of an individual. Sexualization is not a healthy form of sexuality.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), sexualization can show up in four forms:

  1. When a person's worth is assumed to only come from his or her sexiness.
  2. When a child is expected or encouraged to act or dress sexually.
  3. When a person is treated as a sex object rather than as a whole person.
  4. When physical characteristics are considered to be the only indicator of sexiness.

Both females and males can be victims of sexualization.

The term "sexualization" is also used to refer to a type of psychological defense mechanism in which people use sexual behavior as a means of managing their anxiety.

In our culture, and especially because of pop culture and other forms of media, it can seem impossible to avoid adopting the mindset in which you equate sexuality with self-worth. Advertising operates under the maxim that "sex sells." Magazines hand out sex tips like lollipops, and headlines abound promoting articles that promise to make you look thinner, curvier, sexier. Entire industries bank on the inevitability that their target customers will find they need fixing. And all of these messages are perpetuated on television and in the movies.

It seems almost impossible to avoid adopting this mindset, even unconsciously.

Protecting Your Tween From Sexualization

You can avoid buying into the sexualization of tweens in particular by avoiding all of the media hype.

You can also avoid the sexualization of your own tween by helping them learn about healthy sexuality at a young age, and by teaching them that they are so much more than their appearance, and so much more than how much sexual activity they have or haven't engaged in.

In fact, the earlier you start teaching your child about healthy sexuality, the better their sense of self-worth will be, and the higher their confidence and self-esteem will be. They will also be more likely to make smart decisions about sex, or sexual activity when the time comes. They will also be better able to protect themselves from sexual predators.​

We are sexual beings from the moment we are born. Start educating your child and yourself today so that they'll make the right decisions tomorrow.

2 Sources
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  1. American Psychological Association (APA). Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. Updated 2010.

  2. Ruggiero ME. Defensive Sexualization: A Neurobiologically Informed Explanatory ModelAm J Psychoanal. 2011;71(3):264-277. doi:10.1057/ajp.2011.23

By Rebecca Fraser-Thill
Rebecca Fraser-Thill holds a Master's Degree in developmental psychology and writes about child development and tween parenting.