It may seem strange to find an article about underwear in a magazine dedicated to the parenting of children, but I felt compelled to write about this issue when I learned that girls as young as 10 are wearing thong underwear and are being encouraged to do so by the adults in their lives.
Can some clothing be bad for your child's health? In the case of thong underwear, the answer is absolutely yes.
There are two reasons why this is related to health. First, thongs can contribute to urinary tract infections. Second, dressing a little girl in sexually suggestive clothing can lead her to think of herself as sexy at a very young age. This premature sexual self-image can lead to early and inappropriate sexual behaviors. No parent wants that.
Many cheerleading and dance troupes, even those with pre-teen members, require a thong as part of the uniform to avoid "unsightly panty lines."
It astonishes me that panty lines are considered "unsightly" in this very young population who we all agree should be wearing panties.
Why are young girls concerned at all with the appearance of their buttocks through their clothing? Who is looking and whose tastes are they trying to satisfy?
Cheerleading and dance are athletic endeavors. They require skill, precision, discipline, artistic ability, and team work. A neat, consistent appearance is important, but thongs suggest that the participants are on display as sexual objects.
And make no mistake, a thong is sexual. In preparation for this article, I took an informal poll where I asked men for their viewpoint on thongs. Every man I asked used the word "sexy" somewhere in his response. Some parents may think that because the thong is worn under the clothing and is not visible that it is not sexually suggestive, but that isn't true.
Even young girls know a thong is sexy and early sexualization of girls can lead girls to think of themselves primarily as the object of desire for boys. This viewpoint may lead some girls to extreme behaviors like anorexia, yo-yo dieting or promiscuity.
If that weren't enough, many doctors believe that thongs are linked to urinary tract infections, which can be painful and require antibiotic treatment.
Thongs sit tightly against the skin and create a warm, moist environment that germs love. They also form a bridge that allows germs to travel easily between the rectum, where germs are plentiful, and the urethra.
The healthiest underwear for girls is cotton panties that permit air flow between the legs.
The development of a healthy self-image and sound mental health is as critical as physical health. As parents we must protect both mental and physical health. It can be very difficult to challenge the norms of a sport your daughter loves, and rocking the boat takes a lot of courage, but it's important to speak out when an illogical rule can threaten a girl's health.
The bottom line is that thongs have no place in children's wardrobes.
This column is not intended to replace your doctor's advice.
Dr. Lisa Thornton, a mother of three, is director of pediatric rehabilitation at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital and LaRabida Children’s Hospital. She also is assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago.
See more of Dr. Thornton's stories here.