Too sexy, too soon!

A five-year-old in a dance competition begins swaying her hips and singing, 'Munni badnam hui'. When the judge talks to her about it, she proudly admits, "I learnt it from my mummy."

Another girl, all of four, croons to Shakira's 'Hips don't lie' - 'And I'm on tonight/You know my hips don't lie/And I am starting to feel you boy/Come on let's go, real slow...'

Three 10-year-old students are suspended from school for sexual harassment and lewd behaviour. They admitted, "We were playing the rape game."

From Barbie to Bratz dolls -
sexy sells. Little girls want to be 'hot and sexy' too soon. They're dancing provocatively to item numbers like Sheila and Munni. A topless Mallika Sherawat in a magazine this month has 10-year-old girls shop for padded, push-up bras to look like her. This season, the judges of India's Got Talent were shocked as they had pre-teen contestants dancing 'too provocatively'.

Sexualisation of children is a reality that's giving parents new levels of anxiety. "Yes," says author Ahmed Faiyaz, "We're overpowered by images and content strewn with sexual undertones. There are four-year-old girls who want to look and dance like Munni and Sheila. You have fouryear-old boys who want to marry Munni and Sheila. I've seen six and seven-year-old kids in a cinema for a film which isn't for their age, eg, Anjana Anjaani or Udaan. Kids have too much information. We don't want to have a generation of kids who know everything and have experienced nothing."

The Lolita Effect!
Recently, the British Prime Minister David Cameron admitted he wanted to end sexualisation of children and curb the amount of adult-orientated material accessed by kids. This came after the X Factor performances of Rihanna and Christina Aguilera attracted 4,500 public complaints for their 'soft-porn' dance moves. Says Meenakshi Gigi Durham, from University of Iowa and author of The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It, "Young girls are dressing more like adults because marketers are producing adult fashions for little girls. Contemporary media is telling girls that they must conform to a narrowly defined ideal of sexuality. At the same time, it tells them that all other aspects of their personalities - intelligence, artistic ability, spirituality, community contributions - are worthless. These pressures are tremendous and they have a negative impact on young girls, including a high incidence of eating disorders. Another dark side of all this is the burgeoning child pornography."

Sexy kids, tilted growth!
According to a report published by American Psychological Association, sexualisation has to do with treating other people (and oneself) as "objects of sexual desire..." Says Diane E Levin, author of So sexy, So Soon, "When kids are sexualised, their value comes from their sex appeal. This can be damaging." The Barbie doll was reportedly modelled on a German doll, a three-dimensional representation of a fictional prostitute called Lilli in the comic strip of a German newspaper, Bild Zeitung. Says image managementguru Dilip Cherian, "Children are already being bombarded with sexual images. Our kids are even more vulnerable, since our societal and cultural attitudes often prevent discussion of sex. We need public watchdogs and whistleblowers and laws that are sensible enough to be practically implemented." Says Dr Anupriya Chadha, child psychiatrist, "Kids who aren't part of this over-sexualisation feel odd. There's pressure on them to indulge in sexual talk. Parents need to indulge more proactively in their kids' lives."

Too much, too young?
Parenting website Mumsnet launched its 'Let Girls Be Girls' campaign, calling on retailers to pledge not to sell products that sexualise children. Pop icon Kylie Mynogue had been selling 'Love Kylie' underwear on her official website. Says Anita Roy, publisher of young Zubaan, "The way little girls and boys dress and behave is worrying. But I doubt we can really do anything about it. The slowdown isn't possible." Says author Raksha Bharadia, "A lot of 'sexualisation' happens through the Internet, it happens over shows which we get on channels like, How I Met Your Mother, and Two and a Half Men. Children today know far more than their hormones and minds can handle."

According to a recent survey, girls as young as 10 suffer from anxiety because of unrealistic images of beauty. Most parents believe music videos were encouraging children to act older than they were. Says author Paro Anand, who works closely with children, "When I see kids doing 'item numbers' on television, wearing makeup, gyrating their hips, that's worrisome. Kids are getting the impression that sleeping around is perfectly normal." Says Dr Avdesh Sharma, "Kids are talking in sexual undertones from an early age, and also getting sexually active earlier. This has a negative impact on their emotional adult life."

Proactive parenting
Help boys and girls find appealing role models Try not to blame children or make them feel guilty Try to take your child's point of view and see the world through his or her eyes Tell your child they can ask you anything - don't assume they know that.

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