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Too hot for tweens: Why some parents dread back-to-school shopping

By Kelly Wallace, CNN
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Tue August 13, 2013
Parents say too many fashions for young girls are too sexy, too short, and definitely not age-appropriate. Do you agree? Click through to see some of the outfits that have moms and dads most concerned and get tips on how to get your girl to dress her age. Parents say too many fashions for young girls are too sexy, too short, and definitely not age-appropriate. Do you agree? Click through to see some of the outfits that have moms and dads most concerned and get tips on how to get your girl to dress her age.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Parents across the country say tween fashions for girls are too skimpy, short, sexy
  • Study: Sexualization of clothes and media can lead to self-esteem problems in girls
  • Tween girls' fashion is a multibillion dollar industry
  • Parents urge other parents to call out "obscene" brands in social media

Editor's note: Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. She's a mom of two girls and lives in Manhattan. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

(CNN) -- When Fred Goodall went shopping recently in Houston with his 12-year-old daughter, finding a dress took a "long time" because most were too low cut, and some even offered the bare midriff look.

"Wow, this is not clothing for children, this is clothing for older adults," Goodall, a freelance writer, Babble.com contributor and father of three, recalled thinking at the time.

In interviews with moms and dads from across the country, I heard his complaint echoed again and again: The current fashion choices for tween and young teen girls are too sexy, too skimpy, too short.

A mom of three who goes by the name "Miss Lori" online says what she calls the "Shorty McShort Shorts" in the stores are a problem.

"Because all the styles are this way ... you run up against that wall as a parent, 'But Mom, everybody else is wearing that, why are you so uptight?' " said the kids television host and social media specialist.

Mike Adamick, a stay-at-home dad in San Francisco, pointed to the swimsuit choices he and his 7-year-old daughter encountered recently.

"There was a lot of string and barely any material," the blogger and author of the book "Dad's Book of Awesome Projects" said.

Study: Sexy dolls marketed to kids

Abercrombie criticized for selling push-up tops to little girls

Pageant kids: Too sexy, too soon?

There are plenty of examples, according to these moms and dads: Victoria's Secret recently coming under fire for its younger "PINK" lingerie line, Halloween costume choices for girls such as a "sexy vampire" and shorts that moms say they wouldn't even wear when they were in their 20s. (To be fair, Victoria's Secret says its PINK line is marketed to college-age women and not young girls. But those candy-colored underwear are undeniably intriguing to the younger set.)

Can I say right here how worried I am about this looming issue for my own family, with girls ages 5 and 7?

Monica Vignier, an attorney in Northern Virginia, shares my concerns. She has two sons and a daughter, who's about to turn 4.

"I just think, particularly with younger girls, there is this sort of over-sexualization ... making little girls look like adults," Vignier said.

Parents should be "monumentally concerned" about this, says Adamick, who referred to research done by the American Psychological Association in 2010, which found that sexualization of girls in clothing and media can have a negative impact on a girl's self-esteem and can also increase the risk of depression and eating disorders.

Opinion: Parents, don't dress your girls like tramps

"So anybody that's concerned about the emotional well-being of their daughters should be really concerned about these types of clothes or messages for their girls," he said.

"It's all about the almighty dollar and our children are being pimped for our dollar," said "Miss Lori," who's also a Babble.com contributor, referring to the multibillion dollar fashion industry targeting tweens. "We have to say no as adults, we have to say no."

Parents can do that, she and the other moms and dads I interviewed said, by taking their outrage to social media, calling out brands on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

"As parents, we need to let them know, 'Hey, the clothing you're selling is inappropriate,' " said Goodall, who recently wrote a post on his blog, Mocha Dad, about how to find age-appropriate clothing for tween girls.

Parents can refuse to buy the "too sexy" options and buy alternatives that are more suited for a tween, he added. They should also have regular conversations with their kids about what's appropriate and what's not.

Avoiding sexy costumes for kids

"Miss Lori" has had some painfully honest talks with her 12-year-old, telling her that wearing clothes that are too sexy can lead to unwanted and inappropriate responses from men -- something grown women have to deal with too, even though it shouldn't be that way.

"It's really allowed my daughter to have a few 'aha' moments about why I am saying the things that I'm saying," she said. "It makes a difference."

Making school uniforms your own

Stephanie O'Dea, a mom of three girls and blogger whose been part of the BlogHer publishing network since 2008, says she has a "constant dialogue" with her kids about what's appropriate and what isn't.

Her kids' fashions also have to pass a certain test, said the author of the book "Totally Together: Short Cues to an Organized Life."

"So you put the shirt on, both hands go up and if you don't see skin, then it's fine," she said, describing how she makes sure shirts are not too skimpy. "And then for shorts, you have to have your hands straight down and they have to be at your fingertips or longer." (How clever is that!)

Adult-inspired lingerie marketed for young girls

Fred Goodall has other good advice for any concerned moms and dads: shop with your children and have them try on their fashion choices.

"That's also a big thing because actually sometimes the things I think are too skimpy, when she tries it on, it's not," he said.

Mike Adamick says sometimes the biggest stumbling block may actually be other parents.

"The hard part is pushing back other parents who say, 'Oh come on, it's just one T-shirt,' " he said. "I wish parents would wake up ... clothes that put little girls out there as objects should be severely frowned upon."

"Miss Lori" says our tweens and teens are already facing tough times, entering puberty at earlier and earlier ages than we did growing up. Now they also have to face sexualization of their clothing, television shows, and video games, she said.

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"I know that having all that stimulation, having all that titillation affects these children who are already battling hormones like 'Pacman' -- and it's not fair," she said.

"It's almost like I want to do a marketing campaign on childhood, saving childhood so children have the room to be able to grow and explore as they need to," she said.

Amen, I say. Amen.

Follow Kelly Wallace on Twitter and like CNN Living on Facebook.

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