Charity flags risk to children in 'Sex and the City' culture
HELP is at hand for parents concerned about inappropriate behaviour in their children as society becomes more sexualised.
A new handbook containing useful information about what constitutes normal sexual behaviour in children and teenagers and identifies potential problems is now available.
The pamphlet, produced by the charity Children At Risk in Ireland (CARI), uses a "flag system" to help parents see when it might be time to seek professional help for their son or daughter.
The guide was necessary because access to adult TV programmes such as 'Sex and the City' and to the internet has led to increased sexualised behaviour in young people, CARI warned yesterday.
Concerns about this trend have resulted in a hike in the number of enquiries to its helpline from parents, teachers and social workers to more than 100 a year from zero three years earlier.
"In our day, we used to play doctors and nurses but now it's boyfriends and girlfriends," said CARI boss Mary Flaherty.
"Formerly, the majority of such behaviour was found only in the aftermath of sexual abuse but in recent years it is increasingly evident in cases where there is no suspicion of such abuse."
Despite being aimed at an adult audience, shows such as 'Sex and the City', featuring the explicit sexual adventures of four Manhattan women, are popular among teenagers.
Soap operas like 'Hollyoaks', which air at an earlier time and target a younger audience, regularly show scenes of a milder sexual nature as well as nudity.
The guide details normal, problematic and abusive behaviour under two headings: the under-12s and in teenagers, and defines them as normal, "yellow flag", "red flag" or "black flag".
Red-flag behaviour in teens includes explicit sexual threats while black-flag activity involves a number of warning signs, including voyeurism and sexual assault.
Yellow-flag behaviour in the under-12s can include explicit conversations with peers or sexual teasing or graffiti, while red-flag behaviour includes threatening sexual behaviour.
Kieran McGrath, author of the booklet and former assistant director of the sexual-abuse unit at the Temple Street Children's Hospital, said the guide offered practical help.
"Being able to distinguish these different types is a vital part of intervening and the colour coding makes this very accessible," he said.