What Parents Can Learn From The Netflix Film ‘Cuties,’ And How To Help Pre-Teens Navigate Developing Sexuality In A Healthy Way

By | September 17, 2020

The French film Cuties from writer-director Maïmouna Doucouré has received quite the reception in the United States. Conservative commentators have likened it to child pornography, Senator Ted Cruz has called on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate the film, and over 700,000 people have signed a petition to remove it from Netflix—many of whom willingly admit they haven’t seen the film for themselves.

But before Cuties came to Netflix, it was getting a very different kind of attention. Largely applauded at Sundance back in January (prior to the world shutting down due to Covid-19), the film was well-received outside the United States and even earned Doucouré a World Cinema Dramatic Directing Award (Doucouré has since addressed the negative reactions to her film, and has talked about steps that were taken to protect the young actresses on set).

So is the backlash it is receiving now justified? And are there any lessons parents should be taking away from this film?

Understanding The Firestorm

The outrage over cuties in the United States started before the film even debuted, when Netflix chose to advertise it with a poster the streaming company now admits was an inappropriate representation of the movie.  

But experts say the outrage that has followed is a bit misguided.

Dr. Lea Lis is a double board-certified adult and child psychiatrist who has been working with families since the beginning of her psychiatric career. She is the author of No Shame: Real Talk With Your Kids About Sex, Self-Confidence and Healthy Relationships and viewed the movie Cuties herself before forming an opinion on the film.

“The movie is a social commentary on the hyper sexualization of girls and on the dangers of social media,” Lis recently told Forbes. “This is something I have known about for a long time in my line of work as a psychiatrist, in which young girls feel pressured to grow up.”

Lis explained that tweens are already wearing sexy clothing and learning suggestive dance moves from places like TikTok and online music videos. And while she says it’s not an easy film to watch, she likened it to the Brazilian documentary City of God.

“It’s a sad commentary on the dark side of society,” she said. “The idea, however, that it is child pornography is a bit over exaggerated. They are clothed, and it’s clear the movie frowns upon this behavior which exists in society everywhere.”

While she says the film is not for young children and should be rated R, since even teenagers could miss the subtext, she believes it’s a movie that should help adults realize how sad it is that children are not allowed to be children anymore.

“This is in the projects of Paris, with a neglected child whose father is marrying a second wife and her mother is powerless,” Lis said. “This is where life is not easy or peachy and there are few happy endings. To portray it as such would be a bigger lie.”

But just because the film is hard to watch, doesn’t mean there aren’t powerful lessons parents can (and should) take away from it.

Important Lessons From Cuties

Lis said there are several takeaway messages parents will get from this film, the first being that the hyper-sexualization of girls to become women is a real thing already happening in our society every single day—and yes, it should be upsetting.

“Social media is encouraging girls to grow up too fast, and parents need to be involved in these conversations about what is appropriate.” Lis said.

Throughout the film, the girls consume suggestive media, getting their ideas for dance moves from videos they are easily able to access online. Lis likened this to the pornographic images and videos today’s kids are viewing.

“Teenagers, the research shows, do end up watching pornography, regardless of what their parents believe and whether they actively seek it out or stumble across it by accident,” Lis said. “Boys see porn more frequently by choice, but girls are also exposed.”

She pointed to one study that found 93 percent of boys and 62 percent of girls viewed pornography during adolescence, suggesting that porn exposure is normative for teenagers.

Meanwhile, only 12 percent of parents were aware of what their kids were watching.

In her book, Lis says, “Parents need to lock down their technology, and even when and if they do, still need to have open discussions about pornography and how to put it in context.”

How Parents Can Help Their Kids

Lis pointed to one particularly disturbing scene in Cuties in which Amy, the film’s lead, takes a picture of her labia and posts it online. “It represents sad things I see all the time in my practice,” Lis explained. “Sexting or sending nude or seminude photos through text messages or mobile applications, is increasingly common among teens.”

Parents should be concerned about this phenomenon, Lis said, not because of how it was portrayed in the film, but because of how it is happening in real life. “Studies show that teens who sext are more likely to be sexually active and have multiple sex partners, tend not to use contraception, are more likely to have delinquent behavior and internalizing problems, and have higher rates of substance use,” Lis explained.

The younger it starts, the higher the risks are.

So instead of being outraged by the film’s representation of the truth, she says parents need to take this as a reminder to monitor their children’s phones and scroll through their messages.

Beyond that, Lis encourages parents to show an interest in their children’s social media profiles, and to not simply assume they are using the same platforms you are.

“Find out how social media is being used by your teen,” Lis said. “A post or a photo can spark a discussion about how teens are expected to dress or behave.”

She said it’s important to not impose your own thoughts or values on those posts, but to instead let your child speak about their thoughts and ask open-ended questions. Suggestions might include:

·     Do you think it’s possible that post might be Photoshopped?

·     Do you think that dress is a bit revealing for a day at school?

·     How do you think that person felt about themselves when taking that photo?

By having open conversations with your kids, Lis said you can talk to them about appropriate settings for experimentation with new looks, and about ways to express their individuality in age-appropriate ways.

“Collaborate with your teenager about what they should wear and in which settings, make sure you are up on their social media posts, and make sure they are also following on social media great girls who are popular not because of their suggestive outfits but because of their unique sense of style and compliments.”

Some great social media accounts Lis suggested encouraging your kids to follow include Black Girls Code and Emily Bear.

“Have family discussions about body positivity, focus on health not weight, and find styles which are fun and funky and not sexually suggestive,” Lis said. “Explain there will be plenty of time to dress sexy later, when their bodies and minds are ready for that. And when they are, you will be there to help them find contraception and be safe and have open communication with their future partner.”

By helping your kids to navigate their burgeoning sexuality in a healthy way, and by showing them you are a person they can trust and talk to, you can ensure they don’t go down the same path Amy and her friends did.

Which is really the point Doucouré was trying to make all along.

Forbes – Healthcare

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