Force ripe? Don’t worry, be happy!

smileys white background edit

There I was in the supermarket the other day, minding my own business, squinting at the price of fruit n veg, when along comes this child – she could have been no older than seven – her mother not too far behind. She takes in my shorts, my high heel boots, exclaims:

oh, sexy!

to which everyone within earshot suddenly turns round and, having identified the source of the remark, erupts into unanimous laughter. The girl herself, she had not intended to be funny, laughs too after a while. I wouldn’t call it copying, I think they call it social referencing.

Me? I only smiled, surprised by the fact that a child so young even knew the meaning of the term ‘sexy’. Should I be happy or worried? This child did not only know her abc, or (no doubt?) that a yellow M towering above all the buildings around meant this way for a quick, cheap meal! (that is, until she learns that it also meant obesity, diabetes and so on). This child had already picked up other social symbols as well;

shorts + long legs + high heels = sexy

I was not aware that I was a walking symbol in that respect. All I wanted was to stock up my fridge. Children have their specs on whether we know it or not and possibly whether they know it or not. She too force ripe is what my grandmother would have concluded, her voice thick with disapproval, but in this day and age when around the clock and everywhere your eyes turn, allusions to sex are used to sell just about everything (barring dog food, for now…), is it any wonder?

And I wonder whether, instead of simply chastising, it would not be far more effective for us, the grown-up chaperones, to steer children’s visual intelligence to a more critical understanding of cultural symbols. Oh, and to practise what we preach.

This post has also appears in my blog on educational research.

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