Before my wife and I swapped roles and my wife went back to work, she wrote a weekly column about family life for one of Britain’s biggest selling women’s weekly magazines. Every Monday, I’m going to go through her archives and reproduce one of her ramblings on my blog.
This week’s theme: IT’S TIME TO TAKE ACTION TO STOP YOUNG CHILDREN BEING EXPOSED TO SEX
This column is a call to action to Respect Our Kids and protect them from sexualised imagery everywhere. It was written more than a year ago, but if anything, the issue has got worse, not better, as illustrated by Christina Aguilera’s virtually pornographic dance routine on the X Factor, which hit the headlines again at the weekend.
‘I stood in the doorway of my daughter’s bedroom and my jaw hit the carpet. The eight-year-old and her friend were doing a dance routine for me.
The music was Abba. The performers were strictly primary school. The choreography, however, was straight from Lapdancers R Us.
Body thrusting? Check.
Bottom shaking? Check.
Hip jiggling? Naked thigh slapping? Lip licking? Yes, yes, yes!
I marched over to the CD player and switched it off.
‘Why are you dancing like that?’ I asked.
The girls shrugged.
‘It’s just what you do,’ the eight-year-old replied. ‘Everyone dances like that, Mum. It’s how they do it on TV.’
My daughter and her friend are not feral kids. I am not a feckless parent. I don’t let my kids watch music TV. I don’t buy them clothes with slogans that say: Kiss the Boys or Porn star in the making.
I won’t buy them mobile phones. I monitor what they see on the internet. I switch the radio off when Lily Allen sings about sex. I agonise over whether Power Rangers are a bad influence.
I have done my best to be a responsible parent.
And yet, there I was wondering how I was going to explain that writhing around like lapdancer isn’t really appropriate when you’re eight.
I could just imagine how that one would go:
‘Er, what’s a lapdancer, Mum?’
Over the past year or so I have raged in Take a Break against the increasing sexualisation of our kids. I have attacked bad language on TV, the makers of sexually explicit children’s clothes and violent video games, and I have shaken my head sadly over the dominance of celebrity culture.
But the pornification continues. And now it has started to seep into my own children’s brains.
Depressing, isn’t it?
And then I opened my newspaper and saw a ray of hope.
Her name is Dr Linda Papadopoulos.
If you haven’t heard of her, she is not a singer or a WAG or a reality star. But she is someone for us all to admire.
While I have been telling you my experiences as an ordinary mum battling against a rising tide of sexualisation, clinical psychologist Dr Papadopoulos has been researching the very same thing, looking at the effects on children and young people of sexualized images in magazines, on television, mobile phones and computer games.
She has spoken to kids, parents, teachers and other professionals. She has watched pop videos and stared at images in magazine. And guess what?
She has concluded that what I, and many other parents, have believed for a long time, is true – that our culture of porn is destroying our kids.
And she has a plan to stop it.
She has just produced a report for the Government with 36 recommendations. These include:
•Provocative music videos to be banned before 9pm
•Lads’ mags to be put on the top shelf in newsagents and sold only to the over 15s
•Games consoles to come with parental controls that restrict adult and online content
•A rating system to be introduced to show if a photograph of a model has been airbrushed
She has singled out for criticism Bratz dolls in fishnets, Britney dressed as a sexy schoolgirl and one pop video in which a rapper swipes a credit card in a woman’s buttocks.
She says: ‘Children and young people are not only exposed to increasing amounts of hypersexualised images, they are also sold the idea that they have to look “sexy” and “hot”.
‘They are facing pressures that children in the past simply did not have to face.’
She is absolutely right.
When I was eight, it was unthinkable that little girls could assume the postures and poses of porn stars. It was unthinkable that magazines with bare-breasted young women on the cover could sit on a shelf alongside a comic. It was unthinkable that video games glorifying rape and murder could be mainstream.
But times have changed.
For the past decade or so, pornography has been drip-drip-dripping into our lives – from schoolgirl strippers on youtube to the rape and murder of women in video games such as Grand Theft Auto – and now it is part of the mainstream.
We say: Oh, sex is nothing new. Sex has always been on offer
And we are right. Trouble is, now sex and violence are the ONLY things on offer.
Why? Quite simply because they are the only things that grab our attention and keep it long enough to sell us stuff.
Sex sells everything from music to mobile phones, clothes to cosmetics, video games and magazines.
It’s all about making money.
And the younger the consumer, the more they buy.
But I believe there is a high price to pay for all this.
We now have the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in western Europe, one in four teenaged girls has been attacked by a boyfriend, one in three teen girls has been forced into some kind of sexual act, one in four 13-18 year-olds admit to sending explicit and provocative images on their phones, and a third of 11-year-olds hate their bodies so much they have started dieting.
Up until now it was left to parents alone to protect their kids from the 24-hour, multi-media, in-yer-face onslaught. We had to shield them not only from the products marketed to them, but – and this is far harder to tackle – from content marketed at adults in the mainstream to which kids are inevitably exposed.
We didn’t stand a chance.
Now, at last, someone is prepared to stand up to the big brands, the ad men and the money-makers to reclaim our kids’ innocence.
We should stand up and cheer.
But there will be those who moan and whine and say Dr Papadopoulos’s recommendations amount to prissy censorship. They do not. They are simply putting adult content back where it belongs.
They are saying that kids matters – not money.
But there is a snag. At the moment, Dr Papadopoulos’s report is just that, a report.
Her ideas are not legally binding.
But I believe they are too important to ignore.
When I condemned the makers of the violent video game Grand Theft Auto, some of its fans wrote to me.
They said that one game – rated 18 for adults – could not be held responsible for damage being inflicted on young people. They were half right.
Alone, one game, one T-shirt, one raunchy video can only do so much harm. The real danger, however, is what happens when they become so accepted they cease to have the power to shock.
Then a new thrill has to be found. A new low has to be plumbed.
On the same day I read about Dr Papadopoulos’s report, I saw a snippet about a new film written by Jane Goldman, the wife of Jonathan Ross.
The film, Kick-Ass, features a foul-mouthed girl assassin aged 11. The character, called Hit-Girl, slices off people’s legs and shoots bullets through a man’s cheek, swears and, in one scene, uses the C-word.
It is expected to be given a 15 rating but its violent trailer is already available on the internet.
Controversial? Absolutely. Shocking? Certainly.
But that’s the point.
If it were not, it wouldn’t have the power to sell itself.
But what happens when murderous schoolgirls on screen are the norm? Then what? How much lower do we really have to go?
No one knows the answer and that is why I am asking every reader – not just mums and dads – to join me in saying: Enough.’