When my oldest daughter, now 10, was a bit younger, Hannah Montana was all the rage among the “tween” and elementary-age crowd. Some of my daughter’s friends were obsessed with the alter ego of singer/actress Miley Cyrus, watching her TV show and singing along to her popular songs. But to me, something about the whole brand seemed vaguely amiss, so I didn’t allow my daughter to be exposed to any of it.
Cyrus is now all grown up and apparently she wants everyone to know it. After her vulgar, headline-grabbing and widely criticized performance at the MTV Video Music Awards last month, I felt a huge sense of relief that she has never been on my kids’ radar. I had no need to explain why “Hannah Montana” was gyrating on stage in her underwear, with tongue wagging and dance moves so sexually explicit that somewhere, even Madonna cringed. (My kids don’t watch MTV in the first place, but with the incident being splashed all over TV and the Internet, many kids could have inadvertently caught a glimpse.)
Still, I was glad to see that shock and outrage came from all around — maybe we do have some shred of decency left. Cyrus’ own mother was one of the few fans of her performance — evidently, she gave her daughter a standing ovation at the end. That seems wrong and misguided on so many levels, yet it probably tells us all we need to know.
It’s worth noting that Cyrus was not alone on stage — she was cavorting with singer Robin Thicke, a 36-year-old husband and father, whose catchy hit “Blurred Lines” is raunchy and borderline misogynistic. No one seems to be criticizing Thicke’s role in the debacle; though his part of the performance was not as shockingly inappropriate, it takes two to tango. Thicke shouldn’t be given a free pass just because he’s a man.
Our culture has become so overly sexualized that girls at shockingly young ages wear inappropriate clothing, heavy makeup and other things designed to do one thing: attract male attention. I have always been — and will continue to be — very particular about what I allow my three daughters to wear. For example, a two-piece bathing suit isn’t allowed unless it fully covers the midsection and skirts or shorts must be a mom-approved appropriate length. Nothing can be tight or too closely fitted. What might sound prudish to some merely makes good sense to me and it’s no different from the standards most of us grew up following.
Many parents dress their very young girls in age-inappropriate clothing or adorable little bikinis, probably thinking, “What’s the harm?” For me, though there may not be any harm at the time, it sets a precedent — how do you explain to a 14-year-old that she can’t wear a skimpy bikini if you’ve dressed her in one every summer since she was a tot? If a 7-year-old wears nail polish and high heels, by the time she is 11 or 12, she will think those things are for little kids and she’ll want to add eyeliner and lipstick. It’s a never-ending cycle and the only result is a child who grows up too quickly and loses any sense of age-appropriate behavior and attire.
I’m hardly suggesting that putting a 2-year-old in a bikini means she will grow up to be a the next Miley Cyrus, but I think it is exceedingly important to be forward-thinking in what we allow or encourage our daughters to wear.
But let’s also remember that it’s not just girls who bear responsibility for moral behavior — boys must be raised to respect and treat girls properly. For example, music with suggestive lyrics is not appropriate for boys any more than it is for girls; many popular songs are not only risqué but blatantly portray women as nothing more than sex objects.
Kids need parents to send clear messages, both implicitly and explicitly. If early sexual activity, inappropriate clothing and bawdy behavior are not part of your value system, you must make it clear to your kids. If you don’t instill your values in your kids, rest assured that someone else will instill theirs.
Miley Cyrus is just the latest example of what’s wrong with the world today; she’s not the first and she won’t be the last. As parents, we must be aware, proactive and purposeful in teaching our kids to be moral in their behavior and attire, to make good choices and to never blindly follow the ways of society.
Rebecca Horvath of Johnson City is a wife, mother and community activist.