Children are being harmed by exposure to sexual and violent images in the media and parents have limited opportunities to prevent it, a Home Office commissioned report has said.
Media blamed for sexualisation of children
The report, released today, recommends selling games consoles with parental controls already switched on and that adult content should be filtered out by default on “child friendly” computers and mobile phones.
Author of the report, psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos, said there was a clear link between the intake of sexual imagery and violence towards women.
Dr Papadopoulos has called for more stringent regulation of sexual imagery in advertising and a ban on selling lads’ mags to under-16s.
In the report she said: “The evidence gathered in the review suggests a clear link between consumption of sexualised images, a tendency to view women as objects and the acceptance of aggressive attitudes and behaviour as the norm.
“Both the images we consume and the way we consume them are lending credence to the idea that women are there to be used and that men are there to use them.”
Among 36 wide-ranging proposals, the Home Office report also recommends that music videos with sexually suggestive images and lyrics should be banned until after the TV watershed.
The report said: “Music channels and videos across all genres have been found to sexualise and objectify women. Women are often shown in provocative and revealing clothing and are depicted as being in a state of sexual readiness. Males on the other hand are shown as hyper-masculine and sexually dominant.”
Dr Papadopoulos said exposure to an increasing amount of “hyper-sexualised” images by the media was selling young people the idea that they have to look “sexy” and “hot”.
She said this “drip drip” effect was causing many young people to grow up with “poor self-esteem, depression and eating disorders”.
“Unless sexualisation is accepted as harmful”, Dr Papadopoulos wrote in the report, “we will miss an important opportunity here: an opportunity to broaden young people’s beliefs about where their value lies”.
In an interview with the BBC’s The One Show last night Dr Papadopoulos emphasised the importance of communication between parents and children.
She said with her own young daughter she tries to “make her self esteem about more than just the way she looks”.
Other recommendations in the Home Office report include banning job centres from advertising posts for lap dancing clubs and other areas of the sex industry.
It calls for the creation of symbols to show when a published image has been digitally altered, for instance if a celebrity has been manipulated to look thinner.
And it suggests an online one-stop-shop where the public can report “irresponsible marketing” which they believe sexualises children.
Also speaking to The One Show last night, John Cameron of the NSPCC said: “Parents are coming to us and saying ‘look my children are being sexualised, particularly my young daughters’ and that ‘they are seen as actual commodities’ and children are coming through and saying ‘well look I’m being pressurised into having sexual relationships’.
“And one of the worries that we have at the NSPCC is that children are being seen as sexual commodities and that the whole emotional relationships are not being developed”.
The report forms part of the Home Office’s wider attempts to combat violence against women and girls.
Home Secretary Alan Johnson said: “We hope this campaign will help teenagers to recognise the signs of abuse and equip them with the knowledge and confidence to seek help, as well as understanding the consequences of being abusive or controlling in a relationship.
“Changing attitudes will take time but it is essential if we are going to stop violence against women and girls.”
Dr Papadopolous previewed her findings in a seminar last week. She said: “We are hypersexualising girls, telling them that their desirability relies on being desired. They want to please at any cost.
“And we are hypermasculinising boys — many feel that they can’t live up to the porn ideal, sleeping with lots of women.”
Tory leader David Cameron also spoke out against child sexualisation last week. He said children should be allowed to enjoy their childhood and presented plans to penalise companies who market their products inappropriately to children.
Children’s Secretary Ed Balls stated he had raised the issue two years ago, but Mr Cameron said he had spoken about it early on in his premiership of the Tory party, which began in 2005.
Last August the director of a centre for rape victims said that provocative clothing and explicit music videos are putting children at risk by changing what they consider unacceptable.
Dr Catherine White warned that the increasing use of adult images in youth culture is eroding society’s values and making it difficult for young people to say “that’s not right”.