A subject I’m often asked to comment on for various news programmes or papers is The One About Kids Growing Up Too Young.
Oh you know the drill: our children are missing out on their childhood because the advertising industry/the media/our society/dumb-ass parents who buy clothing more suited to prostitutes than 10-year-old girls are turning them into push-up bra-wearing, attitude-oozing, bum-wiggling mini-adults by the time they enter primary school.
And that’s just the nice kids.
I wrote a whole book about childhood and its GIGANTIC-ENORMOUS-HUMUNGOUS importance, here http://bit.ly/gkXSDa , and as a mother of three children aged 13, 11 and almost 8, letting them remain children for as long as possible is something that I’m obviously very aware of and tuned into in my own home life, as well as professionally.
This week yet another survey hit the news about the early sexualisation of children, joining many surveys, studies and news stories on this subject. In the last year or two I’ve been asked to comment on stories about padded bras for five-year-olds, high heels for babies, the Infamous Playboy Pencil Case Fiasco, the banned Jack Wills ‘hey, high-school girls! Buy our clothes and you too can shag in the shower’ photos ( http://bit.ly/dEacwe ), the so-grim-it-makes-your-eyeballs-drop-out Bratz dolls and the Rihanna X Factor furore at Christmas where millions of us sat down with our pre-teen children to watch a ‘family show’, only to gawp in stunned, blushing, slightly aroused silence as she and her family-friendly dancers simulated fucking and basically had an orgy right there on the screen, prompting thousands of children ask why Daddy was jiggling his hand so much under the pillow, and did Rihanna have an itch or something, Mummy, because she keeps rubbing her Lady Bits? …And thousands of mums to press the OFF button.
Oh. Maybe that was just in our house.
But you get the picture – sexual images and words have crept into young children’s lives to the extent that the two are virtually inseparable now. Unless you live 400 miles away from a passing bus, a shop front, a TV or a computer, your children are going to come across imagery, advertising, products and marketing that drip-feeds them the splendidly helpful idea that girls need to use their bodies sexually in order to Be Cool And Popular And Have Everything They Want, and boys should like the girls who stick their tits out and rub their Lady Parts the most.
Of course there has always been an element of this since some bright Stone Age marketing spark discovered that sex sells– even to children who have just grown out of pooing in their pants. But when I was a girl it was much, much simpler, more innocent and less in-yer-face-everywhere-you-look than it is now. And I think I and my peers were far happier for longer for it.
Anyway, this latest research is part of a government-commissioned review conducted by the head of the Mothers’ Union, Reg Bailey, and the many questions it asked parents (of children aged 5 to 16 years old) included whether they feel their children are exposed to too many sexual images in public places, such as advertising, shop fronts, sides of buses and so on, and whether they feel their children are having to grow up too early.
90% of respondents answered yes to the latter.
It doesn’t take my science degree for me to conclude that that’s Quite A Very Extremely Large Majority. I’d also say that I probably wouldn’t like to have an encounter with the children of the 10% who said no….
Rrrrrriiiiing!!! Goes my phone, and I’m asked to go on BBC Breakfast. So off I go. At 4.30am…
Below are links to the discussion – sorry, boxing match – but before you watch it, please read this:
- I’ve been working in broadcasting for thirteen years and have shared a sofa with hundreds of guests, but this is the first interview I’ve ever done where the person next to me turned their entire body away from me for the duration of the interview. If you have even a quarter of a brain then you’ll know it’s impossible to have a normal, polite, flowing conversation with the back of someone’s head. It’s especially hard when they also don’t pause to draw breath while speaking and don’t make eye contact more than three times in 10 minutes, because they are too busy rolling those eyes….and sighing/laughing/snorting condescendingly. Which I found…..y’know…not very helpful really. (Watch it you might see what I mean.)
- The result of this ‘Talk To The Back’ situation was that I was forced to interrupt my fellow guest….a LOT. I felt extremely uncomfortable and rude doing this and watching it back I gave myself several slaps on the wrist for Bad Behaviour, and made myself write 400 lines. It’s not the way I usually conduct myself during interviews, but it was that or sit there like a pretty lemon, saying nada. I chose not to be a pretty lemon….
- Even in the most confrontational cases, fellow guests and I on these programmes are always polite and even friendly to one another off screen. Even Piers Hernu and I, who couldn’t have disagreed more (see this clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1eQI8LYM5I ) shook hands politely, said ‘hello’, agreed to disagree and wished each other a good day afterwards. It’s basic manners. But in this case I got neither a ‘hello nice to meet you’ handshake when I offered it, nor a ‘goodbye’, despite my genuine, friendliest efforts. If my children behaved like to that to anyone I’d drown in a deep pool of shame.
And it didn’t get things off to the best start, to put it mildly…
The debate took pace in two parts, which I shall call Round 1, and Round 2. In between the two we retired to the green room to have our wounds patched up, water splashed on our faces and a pep talk from…erm…our twitter followers. Go Liz!! You tell ‘er!! Left hook, Liz! Left hook! And so on. All the encouragement was greatly appreciated – thank you! 🙂
So, you watch, you decide:
Of all of the points raised, the one about nakedness being something normal and natural and important for children to feel comfortable with is one of the most important, yet rarely talked about.
I feel that we often shy away from nakedness in this country as if its something shameful, or rude – people cover up on the beach, hide in cubicles in swimming pool changing rooms rather than showering in the buff as is done in other countries quite normally, and shudder at the thought of sitting in a sauna naked with others.
And yet nobody bats an eyelid if a young girl walks down a street on a busy Saturday morning with her breasts spilling out over her low-plunging dress, in three inch heels and a skirt that barely covers her knickers.
The rule seems to be ‘It’s OK to sit your six year old child in front of a TV screen where groups of young dancers are gyrating and dry-humping in thongs and a bra…..but not to let them run around the local paddling pool naked.’
I find this very, very strange and it’s not at all how I was raised, nor how I raise my children.
It gives ALL the wrong messages to our children about our bodies, and what they are for. A naked child is NOT sexy. If you think it is then you have a serious problem. And a young child dressing up in a sexy way, moving in a sexy way and trying to act sexy is just…..oh it’s just ghastly. And so unfair on them, because they cannot understand what any of it is about.
And yes, I do think this anti-nudity prudishness / pro-sexual-imagery carelessness is worse in the UK than in other European countries, having lived in several of them. Even now when I visit Germany, Czech Republic, Italy and other European countries I find the children there are YOUNGER for their age, compared with here. They seem more like…..more like children.
So it’s a good thing that parents are speaking out against the overkill of sexual messages sent to their kids, and I send a hearty slap on the back to all of you who take a stand against it, either at home, or by joining the many who campaign against it.
Talking is the first step. And DOING is the second.
Switch the TV off. Don’t let them watch pop videos. (We still have no MTV in our house.) Monitor that they’re doing online and on their mobile phones. Don’t buy T-shirts with ‘Sexy Bitch’ written on them for your ten-year-old. (Oh, you knew that already? OK, you win TEN Good Parenting Points. Go YOU!)
Of course we should always lead by example…but be aware of the massive influence of peers and the media.
Don’t give in to eye-rolling, pooh-poohing people who say you are prudish, and that this is ‘mass hysteria’ and panic-mongering, and there’s nothing wrong with it at all. There IS something wrong with it.
It’s Very Bloody Sensible to be concerned about this, and to want to join the growing numbers of parents who are saying Enough Is Enough. Please can we leave kids to be kids, and stop trying to turn them into sex objects before they know what sex even is, by bombarding them constantly with images of sexual behaviour and dressing that they then want to emulate.
And yes, there is evidence that a) they do and b) it’s not good for them. If you need some evidence that a constant exposure to sexual imagery and advertising puts pressure on young people to grow up younger than they feel ready, and causes problems for them, then here are some links:
- Girlguiding UKand the Mental Health Foundation study that I mentioned in Round 1: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2008/jul/14/youngpeople.gender
- This one includes a clip from the excellent and groovy Dr Linda Papadopoulos: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8537734.stm
- The article that sparked this blog: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13034053
That’s all folks. I’m off to squeeze my eleven-year-old into her boob tube so she can practice her raunchy disco moves. I mean, how else is she going to get anywhere in life, eh???
Or maybe I, and the 90% of parents questioned, are just panic-mongering…