A couple of days ago, everyone was up in arms because of Elizabeth Hurley‘s sexy swimwear line for young girls. And before that, people started taking notice at all of the Fifty Shades of Grey-inspired clothing for babies. The writing has been on the wall for years now that sex sells, and that babies and toddlers are not exempt from the marketing ploys cast unto the retail world. But the reason for that isn’t because babies and toddlers are drawn to onesies that say “9 Months Ago My Mommy Read 50 Shades Of Grey”; it’s because well, parents like sexualizing their kids. Sex has become a punchline that carries over into parenting in an almost-seamlessly creepy way, and a lot of parents are happy to play along. So what if it’s weird to “joke” that your baby boy has a large penis? Or that your unborn daughter is a “little hussy”? Parents sexualize their children to get attention, and if that attention is negative, so be it!

I’m also guessing most parents would probably say that their joking is utterly harmless. But based on what we see in stores, and on our televisions, and read in magazines, it’s not. This sexualization of babies and kids is pervasive, and while I don’t personally go about my day shaking my head at every 8-year-old who walks by wearing something age inappropriate, I do feel like we should draw the line somewhere. And for me, a good place to start is on social media.

I’ve been keeping a “sexualization of kids” folder in my Questionable Parenting folder for some time, and the results are downright scary. I’m sorry, but I don’t want to think about my friend’s baby’s genitals, or see her daughter made up like Trashy Barbie at the ripe old age of five. I don’t even want to read clever puns relating to sex (which can occasionally be funny) if the “sexy” person in question is under the age of 18. I understand why parents might do this at home, in private, but online and out in the public it feels very…careless, like a cheap way to get a laugh. I believe that children learn from example, and the example some parents seem to be setting is, “Flaunt that body! Work it! Ha ha ha, you little hussy!” or, “My boy is so sexy! Check out his swagger!” Before we start blaming another company for manufacturing certain articles of clothing, shouldn’t we take a closer look at the parents who are buying into this mentality? Let’s take a look at some examples.

1. Sonogram Captions

STFU Parents

Usually nurses are the culprits behind those genital arrows (as they’re formally called, I’m sure), and there’s certainly nothing wrong with pointing out what makes a developing fetus a boy or a girl. But it would behoove parents to stop adding wording other than, “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!”, because everything else just sounds wrong. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this particular example, but “opened those legs” doesn’t sit right with me. Then again, it could be because it sounds like a precursor for the next example.

2. Flexibility Jokes

STFU Parents

This is the kind of joke that I could understand if it was made privately, but on the Internet? Amanda is just trying to get attention and be a “funny mom,” but her joke makes me feel kind of awkward. Talk about putting your foot in your mouth. Heh!

3. Just Like His Daddy

STFU Parents

A few things that qualify as cute comparisons between boys and their daddies:

- Facial expressions

- Heavy sleepers

- Obsession with the remote control

None of those things involves “motor-boating” or penis-touching. Please note the distinction.

4. “Sexy” Children

STFU Parents

If there’s one word far too many parents use to describe their children, it’s “sexy.” Since when are toddlers sexy? And furthermore, who the hell wants their toddler to be sexy?

STFU Parents

This little girl looks precious in her bathing suit, except for the fact that the bikini top looks padded and is in the shape of breasts that the child doesn’t yet have. Why is she being given the nickname “Sexy Lexi” when she’s hardly old enough to talk, much less live up to the reputation? Give her a few (or 15) years to fill out, Katiee! (Then again I am talking about a woman whose name has a totally superfluous “e” at the end, so I probably shouldn’t get my expectations up.)

5. A Mother’s Pride

STFU Parents

I can’t tell if the girl in the background whose hands are over her mouth is thinking, “Holy shit, that little girl is adorable!” or, “Holy shit, that little girl is so screwed,” but I’m going to go with the latter. Speaking as a person who participated in dance recitals and wore several “skimpy” costumes on stage, it’s not this girl’s outfit that made me do a double-take. It’s her attitude. I can practically hear this mother saying, “Hands on your hips! Lips pursed! Show me FIERCE!”

No child that young should be on Facebook making a duckface. :(

6. Society Sucks

STFU Parents

I can’t tell if Lauren is being serious or snarky, but it seems like she’s saying the same thing I’m saying. Yes, young girls have a normal fascination with breasts, but I don’t think “stuffing” a bathing suit with water balloons is the problem here. It’s the posing. The hand on the hip, the “model” within coming out now that the girls “have boobs.” The truth is, I don’t even remember thinking to pose like this when I was their age. I didn’t care about how I looked at all. Playing dress-up was fun, but it wasn’t in an effort to look like a Kardashian. It was a suspension of reality, and we played with feather boas and costume jewelry. I agree with Lauren that society has thrust certain expectations of body image into the media, but if we’ve reached the point of no return, what comes next? At the very least, I hope parents will stop encouraging their children to grow up before they have to. There’s plenty of time for penis jokes and bra-padding. Let the kids figure that out for themselves.