Spring is here, and as a middle school teacher this is always the time of year that we have to work on strictly enforcing dress code. Skirts get shorter, short shorts get worn and tops get skimpier. As I look at the way some of the kids come to school I often wonder, did their parents know they were wearing this to school? Of course middle school has always been a time for kids to experiment with dressing in more provocative ways, but I think the more disturbing trend is that children of younger and younger ages are wearing clothing that was typically reserved for adults in times past. As one elementary school teacher noted, “Seven seems to be the new 17,” (California Educator, February 2010). Retailers and celebrities seem to be taking full advantage of this trend marketing clothing for young children with very sexual themes.
Not only has clothing becoming much more provocative, but children are behaving in ways that were once only seen appropriate for teens. At ages where children once spent their time playing dress up or with cars and blocks, riding their bikes around the neighborhood and playing tag and hide-and-seek they are now watching shows and playing video games with adult themes, talking about pairing up with children of the opposite sex and communicating electronically with computers and cell phones. One of the saddest developments of this trend is the role that many parents play. Although it may be difficult for parents to monitor everything their teen wears and anywhere they go, parents can and should monitor their younger children. Unfortunately, not only is monitoring sometimes absent, parents may be the ones encouraging the behaviors. Some parents find it cute when their children behave in an older manner or dress in provocative clothing.
These behaviors are not cute, nor are they harmless. Diane Levin of Wheelock College in Boston explains that this “age compression” is not healthy, especially when it involves sexual issues and behaviors. She explains that children do not have the intellectual or emotional ability to understand these issues, and a blurring of the boundaries between childhood and adulthood can confuse and harm children (California Educator, February 2010).
We need to promote and encourage a full childhood for our children. Children deserve to be protected from the damaging effects of our society for as long as possible and they need to be encouraged and allowed to play and participate in age appropriate manners.