THE BLOG
10/16/2013 06:32 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Can We Allow Children to be Children?

With Halloween fast approaching, I can't help but notice the uptick in blogs and commentary about the highly sexualized nature of costumes for girls. In a recent news interview, Dr. Michelle Cutler, a clinical psychologist and faculty member at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, responded to an image of a sexually provocative Halloween costume for girls by saying, "Our culture is sending messages about what our daughters should look like and these images are becoming more sexualized for younger and younger children."

I couldn't agree more. It seems we re-visit this issue every Halloween as costumes evolve with the times. But the flurry of activity this year is perhaps reflective of the increasingly provocative costumes available for girls, and not just teenage girls -- toddlers. too. Have the days passed when children can simply be children and not be asked to or allowed to grow up before their time?

While I don't have daughters but am parenting two boys, the rules of boundaries and good parenting still apply. Since the beginning, my sons have dressed in everything from Batman to Sylvester to a Fireman and most recently, a Zombie and a Ninja warrior. Their schools have set boundaries: While they can wear their costumes to school, they must leave any toy weapons behind, and general blood and gore are not welcome on school grounds. I don't recall the notices ever specifically referencing sexually inappropriate costumes, but I do know there are general cautions that bodies must be covered, similar to the usual school dress code polices for our youngsters.

Today, I reviewed what people are writing about in social media when it comes to not only over-the-top costumes, but also the growing number of very young girls dressing every day in what many consider sexually inappropriate for their age. It is a general sense of shock, not only that these costumes and clothes are available for young girls to wear, but that some parents are choosing to allow their daughters to wear them, and even encouraging it. As a psychologist who has worked with many children and adolescents, I suggest we are sending the wrong message to our young children.

Most people have a good sense about what constitutes quality parenting, and many of us are aware of the potentially negative consequences of prematurely exposing children to sexualized material and behavior, expressing shock when we see little girls with sexualized graphics on their t-shirts; disbelief when young girls dress in a highly provocative manner; and ultimately, many cast unfavorable judgments on the parents who allow it.

Whatever the chatter behind these parenting decisions may be, such as mothers living vicariously through their young daughters or parents not having the stamina to set and enforce age-appropriate limits, we can't help but express concern about the developmental impact on children when these boundaries are not in place.

No matter the reasons, let's remember what makes so many of us very uncomfortable -- and saddened -- about seeing children treated this way, and the larger issue of how we are perceiving and portraying girls and women in today's society.