The intrusion of media sexualization in childhood

Posted on Posted in Children's Rights, Education, Explotation

Children today are inundated with explicit content across media platforms, fueled by marketing strategies that exploit their innocence for profit. Recent studies reveal a sharp increase in the exposure of children to sexualized content, from music and television to social media and advertisements. This harmful practice, particularly targeting adolescents, poses serious risks to children’s mental health and well-being.

Distinguishing between sexuality and sexualization

Understanding the difference between sexuality and sexualization is key to preserving childhood innocence amidst modern influences. Sexuality naturally develops as children grow, fueled by curiosity and self-discovery. However, sexualization is concerning because it reduces individuals to mere sex objects, valuing them solely for their physical appeal and adherence to narrow beauty standards (Collins et al, 2011).

During high school, adolescents undergo the onset of puberty, which brings about heightened awareness of their own sexuality. Given that this is a novel phase for them, they often learn and imitate behaviors from their surroundings. When parents neglect to engage in candid discussions with their children, the impact of media becomes more pronounced in shaping their attitudes and behaviors regarding sexual topics (University of Washington, 2012).

Recognizing the importance of educating children about relationships and sexuality early on, schools worldwide are integrating sex education into their curricula. This initiative is bolstered by teachers who have observed children in schools, noticing misconceptions and inappropriate influences from the media. This underscores the necessity of addressing these topics in an educational setting through ongoing discussions (Ritchie, 2016).

Sexualization of children in media

Children today are inundated with sexual content across media platforms, including explicit lyrics in popular songs, prevalent sexual references, and unrestricted access to internet pornography (Parliament of Australia, 2008). This exposure is troubling as it can negatively influence their psychological development and perception of relationships and sexuality, potentially leading to premature or distorted views on sexuality.

Several major tabloids and media outlets have faced accusations of sexualizing children. For instance, a report by Equality Now and End Violence Against Women (EVAW) monitored 11 renowned newspapers in 2012. In the report they consequently published, the organizations exposed the coverage of a child beauty pageant in many tabloids, showcasing inappropriate images of young girls in bikinis, swimsuits, makeup, and heels (Cochrane, 2014).

The depiction of children in a sexualized manner in marketing often stems from the belief that such imagery garners greater attention and interest from consumers. This assumption is based on the idea that individuals are more receptive to messages when they are emotionally stimulated. Targeting adolescents, who are significant consumers of fashion, beauty, and lifestyle products, is therefore a common but harmful strategy (Ghiletchi, 2016).

To exacerbate the matters further, such portrayals also contribute to a cultural context where non-consensual images and behaviors become normalized. Additionally, sexualized depictions of young girls imply that female bodies are open to objectification regardless of age, thereby perpetuating a culture conducive to child sexual abuse (Cochrane, 2014).

Hollywood’s perpetuating role in the sexualization of childhood

Unfortunately, these harmful grooming practices extend beyond media and are deeply ingrained in today’s culture. For instance, there’s a concerning rise in the number of young child actors who are sexually exploited by powerful industry figures to produce films. Additionally, adults market these films to other adults for entertainment, highlighting the normalization of grooming children into radical practices and lifestyles (CRA, 2022).

For instance, one of Hollywood’s most prominent actresses Brooke Shields became a victim of child sexualization. Shields was just 11 when she played a young prostitute in a viral movie, and she also appeared nude on a magazine cover around the same age (Buckland, 2024). Regrettably, children today are still being cast in adult roles within the entertainment industry, a practice that poses a threat to their well-being.

Effects of sexualization on children

The prevalence of subliminal sexual messaging in society brings forth numerous problematic aspects. While children may not fully grasp the suggestive elements presented, they nonetheless absorb the negative impacts of sexualization (Mikhail, 2022).  Moreover, pushing children to mature prematurely by teaching them to equate worth with external factors overwhelms their developing brains (Lotus Group, 2012).

As a result, this can send harmful messages about self-esteem and value. Additionally, children may imitate these learned behaviors in their pursuit of approval, potentially resulting in inappropriate actions as they mature. For example, dressing suggestively to garner approval or assess their worth can blur boundaries and influence their perception of appropriate behavior (Lotus Group, 2012).

The profound cognitive and emotional consequences of sexualization and objectification can lead to diminished confidence that is often accompanied by feelings of shame and anxiety. Furthermore, extensive research indicates a significant association between sexualization and prevalent mental health challenges among girls, such as eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression (The American Psychological Association, 2007).

Protecting childhood in the entertainment sector 

To combat the premature sexualization of children, lawmakers and parents must work together. Lawmakers should enact legislation to regulate and monitor media content aimed at children, ensuring it is age-appropriate and devoid of sexualization or harmful stereotypes. 

In 2022, the United States Congress adopted the Stop the Sexualization of Children Act which aims to prevent the exposure of sexually explicit materials to children under 10 years old. The bill prohibits the use of federal funds for programs, events, or literature that contain such content for young children. It also prohibits the use of federal facilities for such purposes (United States Congress, 2022).

Likewise, parents should engage in open discussions about harmful stereotypes in media, while actively teaching their children to recognize and report such content to relevant authorities. Overall, there needs to be a collective effort to protect childhood and halt the sexualization of kids, safeguarding their innocence and well-being.

At Humanium, we staunchly uphold every child’s right to a healthy childhood. We are dedicated to fostering a world where children’s rights are consistently upheld and respected. If you wish to contribute to our cause, you can support us through donations, volunteering, or becoming a member

Written by Lidija Misic


Buckland Eve (2024), Brooke Shields, 58, discusses being sexualized as a child actor but says she was ‘lucky’ to have a ‘strong mom and community’ to protect her: ‘Hollywood eats its young’. Retrieved from Daily Mail at Accessed on April 2, 2024.

Center for Renewing America (2022), Policy Brief: Yes, America’s Institutions Are Grooming Your Children. Retrieved from CRA at Accessed on April 1, 2024.

Cochrane Kira (2014), The fight against the sexualisation of children. Retrieved from The Guardian at Accessed on April 1, 2014.

Collins M. Lois et al. (2011), The end of innocence: The cost of sexualizing kids. Retrieved from DesertNews at Accessed on April 1, 2024.

Ghiletchi Valeriu (2016), Fighting the over-sexualisation of children. Retrieved from Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe at Accessed on April 1, 2024.

Lotus Group (2012), The dangers of oversexualizing our children. Retrieved from Lotus Group at Accessed on April 1, 2024.

Mikhail Mark (2022), OPINION: Stop oversexualizing children’s shows. Retrieved from Technician at Accessed on April 2, 2024.

Parliament of Australia (2008), “The sexualization of children in the contemporary media” Submission by the Australian Family Association of Western Australia. Retrieved from the Parliament of Australia at Accessed on April 1, 2024.

Ritchie Marlene (2016), How Are Our Children Learning about Sex? The Responsibility of Parents and Schools to Teach Kids about Human Development and How to Form Caring Relationships. Retrieved from Child Research Net at Accessed on April 2, 2024.

The American Psychological Association (2007), Sexualization of Girls is Linked to Common Mental Health Problems in Girls and Women–Eating Disorders, Low Self-Esteem, and Depression; An APA Task Force Reports. Retrieved from APA at Accessed on April 1, 2024.

University of Washington (2012), Sexual Behavior and Children: When Is It a Problem and What to Do About It. Retrieved from UW at Accessed on April 2, 2024.

United States Congress (2022), H.R.9197 – Stop the Sexualization of Children Act. Retrieved from the United States Congress at Accessed on April 2, 2024.