My nine year old daughter asked me, “Do boys like that?” pointing to a picture in a magazine she was reading while waiting to get her hair cut. I glanced down and it was a photo of a young girl in a short skirt being ogled at by a guy. I immediately thought the picture was borderline too sexy and felt guilty for not being more careful about what she was reading. I said, “You shouldn’t try to look or act like this to get attention.” I further explained my expectations about how girls should dress and what the appropriate age was to date. Watching her think about what I said, I hoped it would become a part of her conscience. She has a crush on a boy her age who lives on our street, so naturally she is figuring out what boys like. I see my daughter and this boy whispering and laughing together when all the children in our neighborhood are out playing. The mutual infatuation they share is sweet and pure and the boy’s parents and I muse about the prospects of a future budding romance. My husband hears about this crush and dreads my daughter’s dating future. It’s cruel revenge for a father to have daughters.
I’m encouraged that she got my message that day because she has many of my sensibilities. She’s cautious, observant, and not a thrill seeker. Given her personality and my husband’s and my involved parenting styles, I hope the values will protect her from the negative influences that lead some kids to experiment with drugs or premature sex, and that she’ll have good judgment about resisting peer pressure.
But I also won’t assume just because I see much of my personality in my daughter that she will think or act in the same way that I would. We are different people. She’s very outgoing and I’m not. She’ll smile at anyone and says “the best way get someone to smile is to smile first.” She also has a flare for the dramatic, which is a part of her temperament I really don’t understand. I’m puzzled as to her reactions when I tell her no. She sometimes will scream, “You’re ruining my life!” (yes, she’s only nine) And with that I leave the room and shake my head. I’m just not like that.
She’ll also have many outside influences that will play a role in shaping her ideas. We hear all the time how girls are growing up too fast and how pop culture is the culprit in shaping unhealthy attitudes about sex and relationships in young people. It’s undeniable that porn has indirectly (or directly) influenced our culture making it customary to see provocative imagery everywhere. I sometimes think about how my dad had a hand in making these types of sexy images more readily acceptable given his pioneering work in the porn industry. And yes, this makes parenting more challenging, but with all these challenges there are opportunities. After all, would my daughter have asked the question about boys if the picture wasn’t there?
My parents may have not had to worry about what I watched on TV or read when I was younger but I don’t think this made it easier to raise me. I didn’t have talks with my parents about sex or relationships even though my dad was in the porn industry. There was an unspoken expectation about behaviors but I didn’t have influences like Katy Perry, Rihanna or Ke$ha to inspire as many questions about sexuality.
So while many believe the existence of pornography is to blame for the problems of today’s youth, I don’t feel contempt or outrage for the way our culture has been influenced by porn. I feel grateful that today we talk more openly with our children about sensitive issues and that we are forced to be more vigilant and discuss what was once taboo topics.
Ultimately I don’t believe the images or advice dished out in fashion magazines or anywhere else will ultimately dictate my daughter’s ideas and perceptions. I will be the one to do that. That’s my job as a parent. My involvement in my daughter’s life will be more effective than censorship. I’ll never stop being involved in shaping her thoughts about boys, sex, dating or anything else.