By the Australian Council on Children and the Media Today’s media and marketing environment is hazardous, both for girls and boys. Much advertising directed at children works by making them feel anxious about themselves, and undermines their self esteem. They have to have the product to be OK.
Of growing concern are ads and marketing that teach young girls that they will be loved for their sexual utility, and that looks are what matter most. They have to be hot, thin, sexy and pretty. In parallel, violent entertainment marketed to boys promotes the ideal of being handsome, muscley, and aggressive. This can be a dangerous combination when trying to teach children about how to have fulfilling and connected relationships.
Combatting these unhealthy messages is not easy. The Australian Council on Children and the Media is working in partnership with Kids Free 2B Kids to provide supports for parents. They have two upcoming seminars for parents and others in Melbourne on Aug 3 and 4 to explore the issues (see www.youngmedia.org.au ), where they will be launching their new brochure, “Too much, too soon: guiding your child through a sexualised world”.
Here’s some pointers for parents:
What are children saying?
I want that top – it’s cool!
Your daughter wants to wear sexy clothing or makeup.
Am I “hot”?
Your daughter wants to know if she’s attractive and that means “sexy”.
I want MSN [MySpace/Facebook] and a computer in my bedroom!
Your children want to explore the Internet and be involved in social networking on their own.
Can I have a makeover party?
Concern about the way they look is invading childhood celebrations.
I’m too fat!
Your daughter wants to be thin like celebrities and models she sees in the media. Your son wants muscles.
What does *@$% mean?
Your children ask questions about things you don’t think they are ready for.
Where are they getting it from?
• Music videos
• Internet sites
• Peer pressure.
Our environment is full of sexualised images and messages from all types of media, including media produced for children and involving child models. Children can be influenced from a very young age. Adults may not realise the effects that these images are having on children.
It is important for children to learn about sex. The problem is that they are learning about it in a way that undermines the firm foundation needed for later sexual behaviour and relationships.
Why should you worry?
The period of middle childhood in particular is crucial for the development of a healthy sense of self and self esteem. If children see their appearance and “looking sexy” as all important at this time, many aspects of development can be seriously affected.
Girls, and some boys too, may adopt restrictive diets as they try to fit the media’s standards for appearance.
Messages that boys are getting about girls and themselves
Sexualised media give boys a distorted and shallow view of girls and women and of their own masculinity.
Early sexual behaviour
Children exposed to sexualised media may adopt sexual behaviours before they have the maturity to deal with the consequences.
Children are in danger of finding inappropriate material, meeting predatory adults, or posting private information and photos of themselves.
Messages that adults are being given about children
The sexualisation of children in advertising may suggest to some adults that children are interested in, and ready for, sex.
What can you do? Be R-E-A-L
Review what they are seeing
• Try to minimise exposure to sexualised images: on TV and in magazines, movies and music videos.
• Monitor Internet use closely and keep computers in family areas.
Expand what they are seeing and doing
• Expose both girls and boys to a wide range of competent female role models in books, movies and television programs.
• Promote media literacy - teach your children to question media messages.
• Encourage your daughter and her friends to be interested in a wide variety of activities which encourage competence and creativity (rather than shopping, makeovers, pop stars etc).
Acknowledge them and answer honestly
• Acknowledge your children for their personal qualities and abilities rather than their appearance.
• Answer your children’s questions about sex honestly, but only give information which is appropriate for their age and development.
Lead by example
• Be open and firm about your personal values and limits and explain these to your children.
• Talk to other parents - parents who feel the same way as you do can become allies.
• Join organisations that are working against the sexualisation of children.
For more information about this topic, including references and related topics, go to the “Information about Children & Media” section of the ACCM website http://www.youngmedia.org.au/. The ACCM website has over sixty topics about the impact of the media on children, available also as print-friendly Fact Sheets.
Or to discuss a particular issue with a trained parenting consultant, call the Children and Media Helpline (1800 700 357) (national freecall, 24/7).
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