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'Sexing Up' Our Tweens

The Mercury (Australia)
October 6, 2009

Pressure on girls to grow up is pushing many into wearing bras, nail polish and lipstick before they start kindergarten.

Child development experts say girls enter their "tween" years, between being a child and a teenager, at the age of six.

News Limited yesterday found crop-top bras for toddlers aged two to three on sale at Target.

Experts said that by age six girls want branded clothes, at seven they want styled hair, by eight they diet, and by their early teens girls engage in sex or "sexting" -- explicit text messages on mobile phones.

Monash University developmental psychiatry professor Louise Newman said the trend was taking a heavy psychological toll.

"I've seen children suffering from clinical depression in primary school because they don't feel they are pretty enough or thin enough or able to be popular," Dr Newman said.

"The girls are worried they won't get boyfriends. Girls have started defining their self-worth in terms of themselves as a sex object."

Lady Gowrie childcare chief executive Ros Cornish said children were growing up too fast.

"We have little girls referring to their underwear as bras. I think a lot of it is consumerism, children are exposed to a lot of commercials and pressured into it at a very young age," Ms Cornish said.

"Working parents who are very busy can tend to overcompensate by giving in to children and buying things.

"This can happen to children in group care, in particular. There needs to be a rethink about retailers and advertisers and manufacturers. Much of it is to do with the media. Let children be children as long as possible."

Australian Childhood Foundation chief executive Joe Tucci said the number of children needing psychological help was growing.

"In an unprecedented way this generation of children are being exposed to adult concepts far earlier than they are ready to understand," Dr Tucci said.

"Kids as young as seven and eight are worried about the way they look, whether they're attractive to young boys. They lack self esteem and confidence.

"An impact is depression and anxiety, which we are seeing an increase of, in unprecedented levels.

"It is driven a lot by corporate greed. Children for the first time are being treated as a consumer group in and of themselves."

Target yesterday defended the sale of baby bras, saying it was up to parents to choose whether to buy them.

Victorian child advocate Julie Gale was outraged to find bras for toddlers on sale.

"It is totally unnecessary. A two-year-old doesn't need that," Ms Gale said.

Author and teacher Maggie Hamilton said children were the subject of intense marketing campaigns.

"This whole marketing to children is exposing them to an adult world," she said.





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