She spoke about research but just as importantly spoke from the perspective of a pediatrician who has dealt with the impact of the media on her patients.
Children are inundated by the media before they have the experience and knowledge to make critical assessments of what messages are being reinforced by the media. Children may not realize that what they learn from the media is not an accurate representation of the real world. Many of the media messages do nothing to support healthy decision making.
In a handout from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, by the age of 3 months 40% of infants are watching screen media regularly however the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under the age of 2.
Media often promotes physical standards to children which they can't possibly reach because the image is an impossible one. If children make judgments about their own bodies using distorted body images as the standard for what they should look like that can contribute to a toxic obsession with weight and beauty. Hypersexualized media also distorts the reality of sexual behaviors and can impact children's sexual actions.
Normalization is the process through which ideas or behavior go from clearly problematic to accepted part of societal culture. For those who don't like the sexualization of children this results in an attitude of futility and "this is just the way it is." But Dr. Billings stressed that adults do have the power to push back against these norms and they can help their children develop this power.
The goal is to assure childhood free from sexualization, but right now hyper-sexualization is pervasive. Adults and children need to develop media literacy so they think critically about the media they are exposed to and take an active role in the consumption of media. Media can and must be held accountable for what is presented and what is not presented.
Dr. Billings encouraged parents to not only monitor and control their children's media usage but to use problematic content as an opportunity to help their children develop their thinking skills. This needs to go beyond rejecting certain content and telling a child, "that's bad." Parents should encourage their children to talk to them about their perspective and then parents need to listen. Adults can then help children develop clear boundaries so those children can better face general or specific pressure which pushes them toward sexualization or objectification.
The bottom line is that we need to let children be children and to view sexuality as a developmental milestone not as something which is imposed on children by the media or by society.