When twenty-something mom April Lim came home one day, she was surprised to find her preschool son Austin doing the “otso-otso.” After all, she had specifically told the yaya that Austin could only watch Sesame Street and Barney. Besides, Austin spends most of his day either in school or n tutorial sessions.
April says, “He only gets to watch variety shows on those days declared holidays by the school. But he was still able to learn the song and dance to the song. Since he still doesn’t know the meaning of the song, we didn’t make a big deal out of it. But we told him that the dance was not so nice so he wouldn’t do it anymore.”
Why? What’s the fuss about “otso-otso?” Simply put, “otso-otso” is a dance that involves gyrating the torso in rhythmic movements. This dance, which is more often associated with sleazy bars, came into popularity via noontime television. And now, everybody, and I mean everybody, is doing it, from office employees and bus drivers to fish vendors and, most unfortunately, little kids. Some say its just good, clean fun. But let’s face it, it borders on the lascivious.
“Nowadays, it’s hard to control what our kids watch on TV. Even if we can regulate the shows that they could watch, some of the commercials have some malalaswa (risqué) portions in them,” April says. “Even our daily noontime shows have been recently labeled as malalaswa because of the dancers - how they dress and how they move - and also the hosts, who frequently humiliate the contestants or the dancers. For us working moms, it’s hard to filter what our children watch at home.”
And unfortunately, for April and other parents out there, these messages are not limited to the television. They are everywhere - from billboard ads hawking sexy lingerie and R-rated movies to suggestive music videos, trashy books, and on the internet, outright pornography.
The sexualized child
Mildred relates, “Just the other day, my niece was holding a Yu-Gi-Oh card in front of her. She said, ‘Look, there’s a man inside nakabomba…tapos yung girl naman nakabomba rin tapos nagki-kiss sila.’ I was shocked as to how she could imagine such a scene. So later that day, I told my sister-in-law about it. She said that that morning, they were watching HBO, and there was a scene of a man and a woman naked in a bathtub and kissing. Afterwards, she talked to her daughter about the matter.
The case of Mildred’s niece is not at all surprising. “The onslaught of a pervasively sexual culture has brought about the early sexualization of children,” says Randy Dellosa, M.D., a psychologist-psychiatrist from The InnerLife Wellness Center. And what’s alarming about these messages, says Dellosa, is that the ideas are sensual, not just sexual. They are meant to excite the senses, to appeal to pleasure.”
“Children are not prepared to see any form of sensuality,” he says. Indeed, sexualization can harm a child’s emotional development. Kids need time to grow up to process what sexuality is. Kids need to discover their own sexualities first. If they are exposed to such messages too early, Dellosa says it can be considered a form of abuse.
The need for parental guidance
It is awfully easy to blame pop culture for attempting to rob our kids of their innocence. It’s to easy to point our finger at MTV or Britney Spears, “Eat Bulaga,” or Diana Zubiri. However, the cause of the sexualization of our children is far more complex. It involves other factors - absentee parents, peer pressure, the media, advertisements, video piracy, poor legislation, and even weaker enforcement. All these contribute to this growing problem.
While it isn’t possible to shield our kids from an increasingly sexualized culture, it is possible to guide them, teach them, and give them the confidence to make responsible decisions in the future.
What parents can do
Some suggestions from the Hospital for Sick Children Foundation, a research center affiliated with the University of Toronto, and the National Institute on the Media and the Family www.mediafamily.org are as follows:
- Establish time limits for television. Watch TV according to programs, not time slots.
- Read and understand the ratings of video games. “EC” is for early childhood, “E” for everyone, “T” for teenagers, and “M” for mature audiences.
- Use built-in parental controls for internet usage. Place the computer in a shared space, not the bedroom.
- Discuss the messages your child is getting from television, pop culture, movies, and advertising.
- Set boundaries for appropriate dress, make-up, and conduct for different age levels.
- Keep in mind that a 13-year-old girl may look and dress like an adult, but she does not have the psychological or emotional capacity of an adult.
- Develop and maintain positive and loving relationships with your children.
- Keep communication lines open.
- Always seize the opportunity to be your child’s role model.
- Encourage your child to develop other interests like arts or sports, for instance. Focus on his achievements, rather than his appearance.
- Talk to your child about the physical and emotional aspects of sexuality. This will help your child make positive choices.
- Be an ask-able parent. Let your child feel comfortable about asking you questions.
- Always be calm
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