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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 July, 2003, 14:43 GMT 15:43 UK
Sexy pop stars 'threaten childhood'
Kylie Minogue
Kylie Minogue: criticised for relying more on appearance than singing
Children are being put under pressure to grow up too soon by pop stars who use a sexy image to promote their songs, a teachers' leader says.

Jim O'Neill, chairman of the Professional Association of Teachers, has warned that the innocence of childhood is being eroded by the sexual imagery of stars such as Kylie Minogue and Britney Spears.

"Kylie Minogue might be a great singer but in many of these things you can see more of her bottom than you hear of her voice," said Mr O'Neill.

And he complained that the pressure to grow up too soon meant that primary school girls were going to school in "ridiculously short skirts" and "dressing like teenagers - it might be appropriate in a club but certainly not in a school".

He also said Britney Spears had adopted a more "raunchy" image, which children would follow.

"Britney Spears was promoted as being ideal for girls - the virgin thing and everything else.

"Now that seems to have gone - she's quite raunchy now, when I think back to the fact she was projected as this country girl with flowing skirts and petticoats.


"That's the problem, if pop stars are going to make a success, they have to promote themselves and the way to do it is to make more and more outrageous videos and statements."

Mr O'Neill says children are exposed to too much swearing on television

Addressing the association's annual conference in Harrogate, Mr O'Neill said that children's right to be themselves was being threatened by an aggressive consumer and media culture.

"Childhood itself is under so much pressure today. Our youngsters are almost coerced into growing up far too fast and far too soon by some of the pressures and policies around them.

"There are pressures to succeed, to conform, to be in fashion, to be 'cool' and to have anything and everything immediately - especially if it's the designer label of the day."

Mr O'Neill also said that he was unhappy at how childhood was being "eroded" by lessons being given to infants about drugs and sex.

"I despair of further erosion of childhood and childhood innocence when you hear that six year olds in Nottingham schools are being taught about the perils of drugs, smoking and alcohol - at six mind you, and when there are plans to introduce sex education for five year olds."

The quality of childhood was also being damaged by the number of tests and exams facing young people, he said.

'Dumbing down'

"It is important to remember that children are little beings not inanimate objects; not little vessels to be filled to the brim with academic knowledge."

Mr O'Neill also warned against the way that television was setting a bad example for children, exposing them to too much bad language and violence - and he said that there had to be a stand against the "dumbing down of standards".

And he called on the Children's Minister, Margaret Hodge, to ensure "a much more rigid enforcement of the nine o'clock watershed and the standards that watershed is supposed to protect".

But he also suggested that teachers had contributed to a lack of "social order", saying that in the 1970s and 1980s, the prevailing liberal ethos had led to "excesses" which needed "curbing".

"The other thing lost is a sense of shared responsibility and of community, with the consequent breakdown in social order, but the whole blame for that cannot be laid at the door of education."

The BBC's Angus Crawford
"Australian Kylie Mionogue got a special mention"

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