I just discovered Lifetime’s hit docu-series Dance Moms this weekend. If you’ve seen it, you will know that the show features successful and exacting dance instructor Abby Lee Miller, her talented students and their crazy mothers who watch their daughter’s every arabesque and grand jete.
The one episode I caught (part of) involved a nine-year old performing a sexually charged dance in a costume reminiscent of Frederick’s of Hollywood bridal lingerie as well as a performance involving eight- and nine-year-old girls donning (as one blogger described) “Parisian hooker hair, shiny turquoise latex hot pants, thigh-high stockings and bra tops”. The performance reminded me of something one would see in a burlesque show. Instructor Miller explains that she wants the girls to appear sophisticated, mature, sexy and sizzling.
As these little girls (who haven’t even reached puberty) walk around the dance competition, the moms comment how every adult man in the place can’t help but stare at their barely-dressed daughters. The moms excuse the outfits and the routine’s impact on their daughters (in part) by telling themselves little “white lies”, for instance, that their daughters don’t even know what “sexy” means, that the “show must go on”, that the girls “don’t understand” what they are doing and that they must meet the standards of today’s dance competitions.
The show made me angry, not only because it seemed like a pedophile’s dream, but also because of how blind the moms appeared to be to their own poor parenting. But then I started thinking about how many poor choices and how many little “white lies” we buy into as parents. We self-indulgently allow our children to sit with us as we watch or listen to things that have mature content (telling ourselves that the content is “over their heads” or that “they aren’t interested in sex yet” or “they aren’t paying attention”). We let out daughters wear shorts and skirts that barely cover anything, because “it’s just too hard to find clothes that fit any other way” or because “everyone is doing it”. We tell ourselves that our kids are “good enough” to stay out of trouble. We don’t want to believe that our kids have sexual desires or interests or are even sexual beings. We abdicate our parenting to the TV or computer. We tell ourselves our kids will understand how to discern the fantasy of virtual realities from the real world. We let them watch sexual content because it’s on ABC Family. We buy in time and time again to the permissive standards of our society rather than focusing on what is beneficial and edifying for our children.
Are we really stronger or better parents than the moms featured on “Dance Moms”? Are we all becoming passive parents–willing to trust our children to the media, to a dance coach, to our culture?