Actions to Take

Concerned about how girls (and boys, too) are being affected by today’s no-holds-barred hyper-sexualized culture? There’s plenty of room for discussion about how children are impacted, which children are impacted, and how to distinguish normal sexual development from an unhealthy preoccupation with being ‘sexy enough.’ There’s also room to acknowledge that to some extent, this is an issue about personal and cultural values, and that a culturally heterogeneous community should only intervene when real harm, rather than imagined harm, is being done. After six years of research on this topic, Youth Catalytics has come to believe that while all girls may be harmed by early sexualization, the girls mostly likely to be harmed are those who start out with the fewest protective factors: girls disadvantaged by poverty or serious family dysfunction, girls who are easily exploited by anyone older and more powerful.

There are several practical actions that communities, schools and other organizations working with young people can take to advance their own understanding of the complex issues involved and decide on what, if anything, they want to do. Youth Catalytics has decades of experience leading group conversations, conducting strategic planning processes, helping young people to develop leadership and advocacy skills, and leading youth media projects. Considering any of the ideas below? Contact us. We can help.

  1. Host a community dialogue for concerned parents, civic officials, education professionals and young people.

    Well-facilitated community conversations build consensus and lay out concrete steps for action. Should schools be teaching media literacy and Internet safety? Should community coalitions work on ‘girl empowerment,’ and if so, how would that look, and which girls should be targeted? Or is educating parents likely to be more impactful? Perhaps your community is more interested in looking critically at the digital media world. To make any progress, you’ll need to hear each other out and decide on a common direction.

  2. Support youth media projects that help young people explore the sexual pressures they face.

    Media projects can take a variety of forms, from photovoice to digital storytelling to video productions. Projects can be located in high schools, in classes or extracurricula groups, in community youth groups or social service agencies. Requirements include space, cameras and related software, a group of dedicated young people and an adult to help shape and facilitate the project.

  3. Facilitate youth-led action groups located in high schools or community-based organizations.

    Youth groups around the country have successfully lobbied public officials for legislative changes and spearheaded consumer boycotts that led to actual products and advertising being withdrawn. Empowering young people to change their environment leads to powerful results, both for the youth who participate and for the adults who assist them.