Monday, 7 December 2009

The erosion of childhood

Last week saw me attend two training days on keeping children safe online and educating them to keep themselves safe. The training is provided by CEOP and I can only recommend it. I consider myself reasonable knowledgeable in all things child protection, but the training was an eye opener still. What shocked me most was the realisation of how very young girls are becoming increasingly sexualised, the reasons for this, the risks and the impact on these young girls. Not long ago, Noble Savage blogged about the effects of the sexualisation of girls on boys, and I also revisited my thoughts on Tom Cruise's and Kati Holme's 3 year old daughter Suri wearing a designer wardrobe and, can you believe it, high heel shoes.

Children copy what they see. This Australian short advert which really brings this message home:

So what do children see? Most women they respect and are into are extremely sexualised. They are Christina Aguileras, Hanna Montanas, Katie Prices and many more. The list is endless. Girls/women in magazine, barely alive so famished to fit the size zero aspiration. Metropolitan Mum blogs about it every Monday very poignantly. Now, I've tried to remember what kind of women might have been my role model. Who did I admire when I was, say, 12? Strangely, the women I remember I didn't admire. There was Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Samantha Fox, Bananarama. All sexualised, but I couldn't care less for them. Annie Lennox was someone I admired, but maybe that is in retrospect because it was only later that I developed a deeply rooted respect for her talent. I honestly cannot remember a single woman who might have been a role model for me. My role models were male, for better or worse. So I'm at a loss. I can't relate to the admiration of half naked, unreal looking, orgasmically dancing women that have become the role models of this decade's girls.

The training presented me with many interesting facts. One of the statistics quoted was that 55% of secondary school children felt that their childhood was over. The link to the sexualisation of very young girls isn't proven, but it seems difficult to argue that there is no link. If it's desireable for girls of any age, and I mean from toddler age onwards, to look like a grown women, if they are put into adult clothes that make them look more sexy than cute (high heels anyone?), if they aspire to look like those succesful, rich, have it all women that are barely clad at public events (see that image of Katie Price posing with primary aged kids?) then it's little wonder that by the time they reach 11, children feel their childhood is over.

Instead, our girls are aiming to look like sexy women, boys create Miss Bimbo characters, read glossy mags and pro anorexia sites that tell them they should look like a famished person, that the way to fame, money and happiness is by being thin and sexy. Ask any teenager nowadays what they want to become and it'll be either a singer/actress or a footballer/musician depending on gender. This is the common ground of our children's aspirations. Aspirations which are bound to be crushed, and do not enable their individual talents to flourish. I just cringe at the thought of living in a world of Miss Bimbos.

The problems is exasperated by the fact that adults collude with the sexualisation of young children. Beauty pageants are just one example where adults encourage young children to the extreme to pose as little adults. Children are targeted by the fashion industry and so are their parents. It starts early and gets them hooked good and proper.

Just to be clear - I would never suggest girls shouldn't have the right to choose their clothing or the way they choose to represent themselves. They do, the issue is that they are stereotyping themselves and losing the diversity of personality that they do have. Often, younger girls are just copying their older sisters, and inadvertently, and innocently, equate good looks with sexy looks. The two then become inextricably linked and therein lies the danger. Of course, on the one hand there is the risk that paedophiles see a pouting girl's photo as an open door and that they will groom them. The problem here is the paedophile not the girl. The other danger is that of having the pressure to look sexy imprinted on them as something that is not just desirably, but necessary. Then, there is no choice for the girl.

I take issue particularly with the sense of lost childhood, a childhood that ends early because of the desire to be an adult, to be sexy, attractive and desired. As a mother to a girl, I'm worried. I wish for her to be carefree, to not have to feel pressurised into any kind of behaviour, by her peers or the society we live in. I want her childhood to last as long as possible, I wish for her to be free and able to choose what is good for her and makes her grow as a person. I want her to be a child for as long as she can. The thing is, childhood is short and precious, and adulthood is long enough.


Metropolitan Mum said...

It's absolutely appalling. I am so afraid, too, of my daughter to be pushed into something she would never choose without the external pressure. Sadly, there is only so much you can do as a parent.
The video gave me goose-bumps all over.

Cave Mother said...

It is a little scary to think what my daughter will be exposed to as she grows up. Some parents do everything they can to protect their children from the big bad world by keeping them at home (and even home educating). Others take the view that they are going to have to survive the world as adults so they may as well get used to it as children.

At the moment I really don't know how to tread the fine line between protection and over-protection. This is an issue that I bury my head in the sand about.

MrsW said...

I've always found CEOP to be morbidly sensationalist. When you consider that the vast majority of children are abused by someone they know it tends to put the online threat in perspective. CEOP just annoy me!

cartside said...

MrsW, that's true, most of the abuse will be by someone they know and a bit of perspective is definitely needed. To be fair on CEOP, I didn't find the training sensationalist, and their approach to give children the knowledge to make their own decision strikes me as reasonable.

However, my point is not about the actual abuse that may happen (I tried to acknowledge that risk with just a half sentence because I'm aware that there are much more prevalent risks for young people, such as domestic abuse, neglect, exposure to violence, drugs, alcoholism, smoking at a young age etc) What I do worry about is the pressure for girls to present themselves (online or offline) as sex queens, and I honestly can't remember aspiring to that when I was young. And this is definitely a very widespread tendency, which does worry me.

Mwa said...

I loved that little film. You are right, of course, but I haven't found a way around it because my children go to mainstream schools and are in the world. I hate it, too.

Aussie Mum said...

Sometimes I'm just glad I have boys!



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