Betsy Hart

Maybe I'm a cynic. But every once in a while I see a news story and I wonder if it's for real. And so it was when I recently read on ABCNews.com a story by Sheila Marikar headlined "Some Say It's OK for Girls to Go Wild."

"Your 14-year-old daughter shows up on MySpace in a bikini. Her 13-year-old friend is wearing a miniskirt that might make Britney Spears blush. Time to panic? Not necessarily," Marikar opens. Some experts, she writes, argue that, "while young women may express their sexuality more overtly than they have in the past, for the most part, their behavior isn't cause for alarm. It's a necessary step in growing up."

(Hold on. We're not at the "unreal" part yet. Here come the quotes in the article from the experts.)

" 'There's a difference between posting a picture of yourself in virtual space, like Myspace or YouTube or Friendster, and posing in provocative clothing in public,' said John Broughton, Columbia University professor of psychology and education."

(Yeah. Sexual predators have more access to our kids in the first case.)

"Jaana Juvonen, who studies the development of middle and high school students at UCLA, said ... 'Many girls might look very differently from how they act. We should not judge them based on what they look like.' "

Well unfortunately Ms. Juvonen, I just don't think most predatory males _ OK, make that "males" _ have gotten that memo.

But the articles goes on to quote LynNell Hancock, who covers the "youth beat" at Columbia University's journalism school, to say that "by dressing provocatively, dancing seductively and posting salacious photos on social networking sites, young women are trying to accomplish a time-honored goal of adolescence: establishing their independence."

And Broughton further offered this in the article: "Putting up pictures of yourself scantily dressed on MySpace is, in a way, kind of a good sign. The good news is that it's somebody who isn't horrified by their appearance. Also if they get some positive response, that can be very supportive."

It was at this point I had to make sure this is all for real. It is. And it's more than a little ironic that even as the Marikar story was being posted two men were arrested on charges they raped a 14-year-old girl they pursued through MySpace.

Yes, the vast majority of the "scantily dressed" girls on these sites will, thankfully, not be sexually assaulted as a result. That's not the point. This is: Just what are these kids learning about what to value in themselves in a society whose "experts" think that public demonstrations of sexuality in young girls is a good thing? And what are the young guys taking away about what an adult society says they are supposed to value most in girls?

Hello. We adults are supposed to be protecting our kids, not serving them up. But we are hyper-sexualizing them at ever younger ages in a way that does just that.

I have four children, a son and three daughters. And the oldest are bumping up against the teen years. Look, I love the Internet, and there's a lot I like about community Web sites, used rightly. I'm already encouraging my kids to find their own clothing style even when it's different than mine.

More to the point, I also encourage them to find value in who they are, and to enjoy their minds, and their accomplishments, and to appreciate and respect their bodies. So I hate the gratuitous sexualization of our kids. It's not because I'm a prude. Just the opposite. I hate it because that's not good enough for our kids in any sense. They were designed for so much more.

I'm actually all allowing kids to discover themselves. But that should come within our guidance and protection. And that means the adults in our children's lives need to behave like, well, grown-ups.


Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart is a nationally syndicated columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service. Her column on cultural and family issues, “From the Hart,” is distributed each week to hundreds of newspapers cross the country. Betsy’s first book, "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting out Kids – and What to do About It," was released in September, 2005, and was a top seller for its publisher, Putnam Books.