Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker takes on the complex issue of hyper-sexualized media toward children in her new book Sexualized Media Messages and Our Children: Teaching Kids to Be Smart Critics and Consumers, set to release in late February.
The book explores the way media messages toward children have been increasingly sexualized over time.
Shewmaker, associate professor of psychology, said the book takes a unique approach to the subject.
“Instead of seeing children as passive victims to an all-powerful media, I submit that important variables in a child’s life mediate how they respond to these images and narratives,” she said.
Shewmaker began researching the subject about six years ago when she noticed the differences between media aimed at her 8-year-old daughter and the media she consumed as a child. This over-sexualized media is not aimed only at girls, but boys as well, she said.
Shewmaker observed how the media led young girls to believe their worth is based exclusively on how attractive they are. In contrast, young boys were told they could gain social power by having as many romantic and sexual relationships as possible.
From her research, Shewmaker came to the conclusion that children heavily invested in this kind of media would reap negative consequences.
“Consumption of sexualized media can lead to unhealthy attitudes, such as objectifying oneself or others, and behaviors, such as disordered eating and risky sexual behaviors,” Shewmaker said. “When someone objectifies themselves or others, they are viewing that person primarily as an object for the pleasure of others, rather than as a complex person with complex thoughts, feelings and motivations.”
Shewmaker said this drove her to research ways to influence children’s abilities to critique media and be an active participant of media rather than a passive one.
Dr. Laura Carroll, associate professor of English, welcomed this approach.
“I appreciate the book for several reasons,” Carroll said. “First, as a rhetoric scholar, I am glad to see that she encourages readers to analyze and engage media instead of attempt to avoid it. Words matter and shape who we are, and it is essential to talk about how words, images and ideas affect who we are, even if those ideas are uncomfortable. Second, as a parent of two girls, I love that she gives practical ways to engage media as a family.”
While children may never be able to escape the ubiquity of harmful media messages, Shewmaker hopes her book can teach them to consume media intelligently and analytically.
The book will hit the market Feb. 28 and can be pre-ordered now on Amazon.com.