Children are growing up too fast. They are growing up in a toxic atmosphere of consumerism, overexposure to media and aggressive marketing. The cyber revolution offers free communication and uninhibited visuals which sexualize and objectify children at an early age. Body image and appearance become the primary focus. Long before they understand what it is to be sexual beings, sexual behaviour is internalized.
Researchers in Britain claim that boys and girls are reaching puberty before the age of 8 years. Their findings showed that 1 in 6 girls menstruate before they are 8. Fifty years ago I in 100 girls would start periods at that age. Boys too reach adolescence by 12 – 13 years.
Precocious puberty has its dangers. The rush in hormones at puberty can lead to children having sex at an early age. Teenage pregnancies are on the rise. The irony of it is that though they are physically capable, they are emotionally immature and ill-equipped to handle the consequences of their behaviour. 40% of 13 – 15 year olds are no longer virgins.
Websites for children like Missbimbo.com encourage children from all over the world to enjoy Bimboland. Here pictures of doe-eyed, curvaceous girls are projected as fashionable. You can create your own bimbo and become a fashion star.
Nuts.co.uk has an absorbing game where 230 pictures of topless girls can be matched with any of 10,000 breasts in a game called “Assess my breasts.”
In early January this year two new plastic surgery apps were released into the market. They are called “Plastic Surgery,” “Plastic Doctor and Plastic Hospital Office for Barbie versions.” The instruction says “This unfortunate girl has so much extra weight that no diet can help her. In our clinic she can go through a surgery called liposuction that will make her slim and beautiful. We'll need to make small cuts on problem areas and suck out the extra fat. Will you operate her doctor?” Though the general public shows its outrage on Twitter, the number of visitors to the site records its popularity.
The “pinkification of girlhood” or colour coding of children's merchandise is another way of portraying girls as purely decorative, easy on the eye and pleasure giving.
Hypersexualized imagery to which children are exposed and the easy availability of porn are turning children into precocious mini-adults. Loss of innocence comes too early. They grow up with a warped image of the body and of human sexuality. Linda Papadopaulos a psychologist calls it the “pornification of society” due to the mainstreaming of the sex industry.
A permissive family atmosphere is another reason why children are prematurely sexualized. Parents must be good role models and not shirk their responsibilities. A mother who drags her little girl of 5 or 6 to a beauty parlor for facials, painting of lips, plucking of eye brows and hair styling is encouraging the child to believe that appearances are all that matter. Mothers even compete with each other to have the best dressed, smartly groomed daughters. There was a time when children wanted to be doctors, nurses or teachers. Today, their aim is to be fashion models or film stars.
Lack of supervision is a growing problem when both parents are working. There is no one to monitor what they see on the net or on TV or who their friends are. Parents have no control of who they meet on Face book or other social media, and what kind of interaction occurs. Exposure to pornography is rampant.
Parents with busy schedules buy themselves out of guilt by overindulgence. Too much of pocket money or even the use of credit cards, is a way of pampering them. While girls go in for trendy clothes and fashion accessories, boys buy computer games, videos or costly gadgets. Children imbibe consumerist tendencies. The impact of brands is so great that they want to dress up like their favourite characters and use only brands they promote. Girls want to strut and gyrate like Miley Cyrus or Beyonce and boys want to ape Sharook Khan or Brad Pitt. Their “pester power” – the ability to influence parents to buy what they like, escalates.
Ill Effects of Sexualization:
1. Promiscuity. This may lead to casual flirtations, posting sexy photos online, experimenting with sex even though they have poor sexual knowledge.
2. Drugs and alcohol become part of their life style, leading to irresponsible behaviour and health hazards.
3. Unwanted pregnancies.
4. Dropping out of school
5. Social problems.
6. Anorexia because of their desire to lose weight.
7. Juvenile crimes including rape by boys between 7 -12 years.
8. Victims of paedophiles.
9. Lured into acting in porn videos.
10. Anxiety and depression. Many times suicide.
How to protect your children:
• Provide a stable family environment. Children growing up in such a home develop self worth and social confidence. Basic rules and guidelines regarding behaviour must be laid down i.e, When can a girl wear adult clothes and make-up? At what age is dating permitted? There must be open communication between parents and children. Talking to them will encourage them to discuss their problems. Parents also have the responsibility to monitor children's use of computers, I pads, phones and crack down on suspicious activities.
• Sex education by both teachers and parents. Children are inquisitive. Teachers must be trained to communicate on the sensitive subject of sex. They should have appropriate resources to teach about body image and well being. Sex education should start as early as 7 – 8 years. Children should be taught to focus on healthy bodies rather than beautiful bodies. The need for healthy diet, hygienic habits, regular exercise and outdoor activities should be stressed. Parents should not be embarrassed to talk to their children about their bodies. They should pay attention to questions asked and give honest answers. When a child reports a disturbing event, it should be investigated. He must be confident that you will stand by him against the abuser. Children should also be educated about the dangers of viewing porn, sexting, disclosing too much personal information on the Net, or uploading too many photographs.
• Teaching children to recognize sexual abuse is important. They must know to distinguish between ‘good touch' and ‘bad touch' and be bold enough to repulse the latter. Both parents and teachers should explain what wrong behaviour is and how to avoid it.
• Media should be self-regulatory.
• Mini-Miss pageants should be outlawed. In September 2013, France voted to outlaw pageants for girls under 16, in an attempt to stop the hypersexualization of children. “Don't let us allow our girls to believe that their only value is looks,” said Chantal Jouanno, former sports minister in Nicholas Sarkozy's government. “Don't let us allow commercial interests to outweigh social interests.” Those who flaunted the rule were punished by two years in prison and a fine of 30,000 Euros.
• Severe punishment for paedophiles and child traffickers.
• Politicians and Industrialists must also share the responsibility of making the world a safe place for our children.
All children need help and encouragement in learning to take responsibility for themselves. Self respect, the ability to distinguish between good and bad, and resourcefulness are what will give them confidence to grow up as stable individuals in a world flaunting damaging lifestyles.