Keep children safe, but don't spoil their fun
Joan McFadden, Living Scotsman, UK, 3 December 2008
We have only ourselves to blame for the way our youngsters grow up and learn to cope with life, writes Joan McFadden
It can be hard for parents to see their offspring as sexual beings, even at adulthood. But if we have to contemplate it, then surely we must hope for them to grow from a safe and secure childhood to be sexually confident individuals, with excellent self-respect and a safe and pleasurable sex life.
Our job is to protect them from the inappropriate and ensure they have the necessary information to make the best decisions at any age, whether that is nine or nineteen.
It is part of growing up to not only pretend to be older, but to yearn to reach another and seemingly more exciting stage in life. Small children have always teetered around in their mother's high heels, dressed up in adults' clothing and experimented with make-up.
Now you can actually buy make-up aimed at very young children but along with face paints these should be for play sessions, rather than wearing with the aim of looking older and alluring and thus appealing to paedophiles. We shouldn't sexualize children, but neither should we see perversion at every turn.
Stranger danger is a concept most of our children are familiar with, but even more than promoting that awareness, we should be ensuring that our youngest children feel able to tell us absolutely everything, including when an adult they know well makes them uncomfortable.
There are many dangers outside the home which we now feel able to make our children aware of, because they deal with that scary figure "the stranger".
Finding the words to warn them that the familiar can be even more frightening is well nigh impossible for most of us, without inducing totally unacceptable fear and suspicion in small children.
It's easier to see the culprits as being the marketing companies or the successful TV shows which deliberately target a young and impressionable audience rather than recognizing that sexual danger is always with us, although its appearance may have changed over time.
In the past, secrecy and shame aided and abetted paedophilia, leaving victims convinced of their own guilt or complicity, which locked them into a dreadful secret.
Now, with the public being so much more aware of issues such as child prostitution, we tend to focus on clothes, make-up and toys as being the perpetrators of this iniquity, rather than recognizing that there is never an excuse for abuse.
As a nation, we are obsessed with sex, endlessly condemning other people's proclivities while retaining a prurient fascination with every salacious detail of yet another public figure caught in flagrance.
Who is doing what to whom and where is splashed not just across the tabloids every week, but further explored in countless women's magazines with headlines such as "I found my mother in bed with my lover," while purporting to be a worthy coffee table read.
Pornography may have its place, but it isn't in front of children, whether dressed up as a good feature or not, and there's a lot to be said for the honesty of the lads' mags, poised appropriately on the top shelves. And apparently thousands of little girls see Jordan, right, as the perfect role model to fame and fortune, which is hardly surprising when you consider the thousands of parents contributing to her fortune by buying whatever she happens to be selling this week.
Talking about sex is another matter
Smutty jokes fine "and they are fine" but a startling number of parents still shy away from discussing sex with their children.
We all know enough to answer questions simply and honestly from the earliest age, expanding as they get older on the importance of self respect and of not being pressured into a sexual relationship, as well as the emotional implications and the legal situation.
Reassuring a seven-year-old that they can always tell you about their feelings and worries without fear of censure isn't that different from making sure that the one rule your 17-year-old daughter has to follow is that she and her friends always socialize in a crowd. Minimize the dangers, keep them educated and keep them talking. It's easier to sort a problem while it's still a minor concern.
Sex is all around us and while it is clearly sensible not to buy thongs or Playboy bunny symbols for eight-year-olds, banning Bratz dolls isn't the way forward. Teaching your child to be cynical about marketing and making respect the watchword at every age will stand both sexes in better stead, especially when it comes to making their own decisions about sex.
We tell our children how attractive they are, yet balk at the idea of them enjoying the development of their sex appeal as they reach puberty. There isn't some magical age children reach which makes them adults. They grow up "hopefully at the right pace" watch the world around them and mimic the signals given out by the adults in their lives.
We should minimize the possibilities for them becoming sexually aware too early, but that has a great deal more to do with family values and stability than the stereotypes that sexualize young women.
Therein lies another stereotype, do we honestly believe that young men are in no danger by becoming sexually active too early? It may not be politically correct, but it's human nature to prefer the more physically attractive, whether male or female. That particular currency has been in play for thousands of years alongside fabulous financial attributes, both of which are as effective as ever. What has changed is our view of integrity, of what is considered honourable and worthy of being aspired to and feted.
Why would any child aim to grow up and be useful to society when our culture reveres overpaid footballers, overexposed glamour models and so called "celebrities" laying their lives bare on reality TV?
We can demonize marketing companies as much as we want, but the view our children have of the world and sex ultimately comes back to us.
Dolls, TV role models and Playboy logo all under fire
BRATZ dolls were criticized at Holyrood's equal opportunities committee for the sexual image they give young girls. In particular, the dolls' "sexy" clothes "short skirts and fishnet stockings" came under fire.
But MGA Entertainments, which produces Bratz, believes that the problem lies more with television programmes, especially "live action" shows which have female models who start off as innocent teenagers and end up promiscuous.
One example cited by MGA Entertainments is pop star Britney's sister, Jamie-Lynn Spears, the star of Zoey 101, who became pregnant at 16.
At the committee hearing, Playboy also came under fire
The company put in a submission highlighting the way it makes sure its men's magazines appear nowhere near children's products. However, the committee pointed out that the Playboy bunny symbol appears on children's pencil cases and clothes.
Playboy has said this is an issue for the manufacturers of products who have bought the license to use the bunny symbol.
Beauty sessions for young girls
The "new trend" of having beauty sessions for young girls and their friends on their birthdays, instead of "traditional birthday parties", also raised concern. It was suggested that this was encouraging girls as young as five to turn themselves into sexual objects.
Asda, BHS and other high-street retailers have also in the past come in for criticism from the Conservative Party leader, David Cameron, for the way they have sold young children's clothes with strong sexual imagery on them, or designed in a sexual style.
Mr. Cameron argued that it was prematurely sexualizing young girls.
The issue has also cropped up in television and magazines, especially so-called teen magazines, with sex tips and articles on sexual relationships.
There were also worries at the way some advertising of products aimed at young children has images of, or involves scantily clad young women, which produce "pervasive sexualization".