Monday 11 December 2017

Gemma O'Doherty on the growing campaign to . . .'Let our children be children'

Lesley is just one of thousands of Irish parents who were shell-shocked by Aguilera's provocative performance on last year's X Factor final. Like many other mothers, she turned to a parenting website to vent her frustration.

In Britain, the act, which was watched by an estimated one million children and featured thrusting female dancers dressed in basques and suspenders, generated almost 3,000 complaints after it was aired in December.

Last month, the British broadcasting watchdog Ofcam found that it went to "the very margin" of acceptable television and as a result issued new taste and decency guidelines to broadcasters of family entertainment shows.

It was one small victory for parents against the wave of sexualised imagery that seeps into almost every aspect of their children's lives.

But this week in Britain, the backlash against the raunch culture took its most significant step yet when a damning new report on the "pornification" of childhood claimed that society has been "sleepwalking into a world where children dress like pole dancers".

The Bailey Review, commissioned by David Cameron, gave a shocking account of how children are being pushed far too fast into the adult, commercial world long before their time.

From mini push-up bras and high-heeled shoes for pre-schoolers to lurid music videos and pouting girls on their favourite TV shows, concern about the sexual commercialisation of children is growing. But now, for the first time, an unambiguous pledge has been made to tackle it by actively targeting retailers, advertisers, broadcasters and social media who cross the boundaries of decency.

As a result of the report, called 'Letting Children be Children,' a raft of new recommendations aimed at curbing the proliferation of overtly sexual content in everyday life is to be unveiled.

There are plans to clamp down on sexualised imagery in music videos and children's TV, on advertising billboards and the front pages of newspapers and magazines.

Parents will be given new tools to block adult content on social media sites, mobile phones and video games. Fashion retailers will have to adopt a code of conduct restricting the sale of age-inappropriate clothes, such as lacy bras and thongs for under 12s, see-through tops, heeled shoes and T-shirts for toddlers with suggestive slogans such as 'future WAG' and 'so many boys, too little time'.

As part of Britain's get-tough strategy on people who profiting from this salacious hard-sell, companies who fail to self-regulate and introduce 'good practice' guidelines will face legislation.

Here, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald, welcomed the Review as "very positive and strong" and said many aspects of it could be applied to Ireland.

"It is a very heartening body of work, which applies just as equally to Ireland as Britain due to the cultural similarities between the two countries," her spokesperson told the Irish Independent this week.

"We're not going to carry out our own report at a cost to the Irish taxpayer but we do intend feeding measures from it into the National Children's Strategy that will protect young people from this sexualised imagery."

But some critics of the Cameron call for action have described it as a classic case of the nanny state interfering in parenting..

The report's author, Reg Bailey, is head of the Mothers' Union, a British Christian group.

One writer called its compilers "a bizarre coalition of prudes, dudes and guilt-tripping parents piling in behind David Cameron in the latest moral panic. This is all about girls, what girls wear and how girls may be perceived: it's ironic that this report should appear in the same week as Slutwalk.

Others claim that it is not the state's responsibility to ban hot pants or off-the-shoulder tops for tweenies -- the only way to stop their production on the factory line is for parents to stop buying them.

The reaction of children's rights groups here to the report has been mixed. Norah Gibbons, a spokesperson for Barnados, said: "We need to be careful we don't go over the top here. A lot of very young children are aping the way older people dress but they don't know what they are doing. There is no intention in their mind.

"They don't believe by wearing these clothes they will look like anything other than children. You need to strike a balance between over-regulating everything and making it impossible to police it."

But other experts disagree.

"Sexualising children at a very young age is known to have an impact on body image and self-esteem and can lead to greater problems down the road," says Ruth Ni Eidhin, communications officer with Bodywhys, an eating-disorder support group.

"If you give a padded bra to a five-year-old you are effectively telling them that they are supposed to look a certain way that they are not matching up to.

"Parents need to be aware of that and the consequences of dressing their children in this way, but the advertising industry also has to take responsibility for the pressures they put on adults. It's very positive to see this urgent problem being addressed at the highest level."

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