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Are Beauty Pageants Bad for Children?

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: I belong to a public service club that has been sponsoring local youth in beauty pageants for several years. I recall that there was some concern in the professional community about beauty pageants and their effect on youths. What is the current feeling about youths and their involvement in beauty pageants?

A: The long-standing and current overwhelming opinion in the psychology community concerning children's beauty pageants is that they are not in the best interests of healthy child development. There is enough undue, exaggerated focus on superficial beauty in this culture without children being pitted against each other in a contest of looks. I have heard all the arguments defending these contests and they all appear to be self-serving defenses with no apparent regard to the considerable body of research that demonstrates why they are harmful to kids. I know that people say, "There are other things they're judged on besides their looks; it teaches them poise, it gives them confidence." But the hard fact remains they are called BEAUTY pageants and they have been and always will be based on using arbitrary standards of "beauty" to make one contestant better than all the rest.

If you sense considerable passion and concern in my reply you are correct. When I think of how fragile kids are as they try to find a place for themselves in this world, when I see the pain of kids (and their parents) struggling with eating disorders, when I hear teens beg me to convince their parents to let them get plastic surgery because they can't continue living looking so ugly (always compared to the popular media's presentation of what is beautiful), I think that children's beauty pageants (and this is mostly a girl's/women's issue) do a great disservice to the winners, the losers, and all children. My professional and personal hope would be that an organization such as yours would find a better way to lift up the spirit of our youth. Thank you for your consideration.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


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