This week, your kids will probably see a photograph of fifteen-year-old Miley Cyrus, tween idol, posing semi-naked. She’s covered in front by a sheet, but the picture, taken by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair magazine, is decidedly sexy. Cyrus originally called the photo “arty,” but she now says she’s embarrassed and that she was manipulated by the world-renowned photographer. A spokesman for the Disney Channel, which airs Cyrus’ hugely popular Hannah Montana TV show, also concluded that Cyrus had been used in order to sell magazines.
Those may be the facts, but they don’t address the impact that something like this has on our kids. When a mega role model like Cyrus does something, many girls follow suit. This isn’t to say that ten-year-old girls across the country will be ripping off their clothes and posing in front of their friends’ cell phones, but media is a super-peer, normalizing all sorts of behavior. The more kids see sexual situations, the more normal they become. And when celebrities or politicians are involved in public sexual situations, the impact is confounded further.
Consider these facts:
- Studies have shown links between seeing lots of sex in the media and earlier onset of sexual activity.
- A 2004 study published in Pediatrics concluded that: “Watching sex on TV predicts and may hasten adolescent sexual initiation.”
- Over 50 percent of teens reported that television provides some or most of what they know about sex.
So, what do you tell your kids? Here’s some advice:
- Ask your kids what they’ve heard or seen. Set the facts straight.
- Point out that Cyrus is a real person. She’s not Hannah Montana. She’s a fifteen-year-old girl who made a decision that didn’t take into account that many younger girls would be see the pictures. (Her parents were present when the pictures were taken.)
- Explain that the media often relies on shock value to get attention. In a world with so many forms of communication, violence and sex get coverage. Tell your kids that Vanity Fair took the pictures in order to sell more magazines, since they knew it would be shocking to have such a clean-cut girl appear mostly unclothed.
- Talk about your values. Every family is different. But if you don’t have a discussion with your kids about what is and isn’t appropriate when it comes to sexual behavior or dress, you’re leaving it up to the media or kids’ peers to establish what’s “normal” or “acceptable.”
By Liz Perle