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Children 'over-exposed to sexual imagery'

26 February 10 09:10 GMT
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News

Children are being increasingly exposed to sexual imagery and their parents have limited opportunities to stop it, a report for the Home Office warns.

The report calls for tougher regulation of sexual imagery in adverts and a ban on selling "lads' mags" to under-16s.

It also recommends selling mobile phones and games consoles with parental controls automatically switched on.

Author Dr Linda Papadopoulos said there was a clear link between sexualised imagery and violence towards females.

Her report said the material children were being exposed to included the growth of lads' mags and pornography on mobile phones, through to big-name fashion brands using sexual imagery to advertise clothes targeted at young teenagers.

'Distorting perceptions'

The report said this "drip-drip" exposure was distorting young people's perceptions of themselves, encouraging boys to become fixated on being macho and dominant, while girls in turn presented themselves as sexually available and permissive.

One outcome had been the rise of sexual bullying in which girls felt compelled to post topless or naked pictures on social networks, it added.

"Unless sexualisation is accepted as harmful, we will miss an important opportunity… to broaden young people's beliefs about where their values lies," said Dr Papadopoulos, a psychologist.

The report's 36 recommendations include calling for games consoles, mobile phones and some computers to be sold with parental controls already switched on.

This would allow families to automatically filter which on-demand services and online material their children can use.

Other recommendations include:

Dr Papadopoulos said there should also be symbols to show when a published photograph had been digitally altered - such as pictures of celebrities manipulated to make them appear thinner.

She also recommends giving the Advertising Standards Authority the power to act against sexualised imagery appearing within commercial websites, such as provocative photo-shoots used by clothing chains targeting teenagers.

Dr Papadopoulos said: "The evidence gathered in the review suggests a clear link between consumption of sexualised images, 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."

The review forms part of the Home Office's broader attempts to have a louder public debate about how to combat violence against women and girls.

Both Labour and the Conservatives are examining the issues. Tory leader David Cameron said earlier this month that he would clamp down on irresponsible advertising targeted at children.

He also mooted the idea that parents should be able to complain about offensive marketing tactics used by companies, via a specially set-up website.

Such moves were needed to stop children being "bombarded" with inappropriate material, he said.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson said: "We know that parents are concerned about the pressures their children are under at a much younger age, which is why we have already committed to a number of the recommendations in this report.

Parental control

"Changing attitudes will take time but it is essential if we are going to stop the sexualisation which contributes to violence against women and girls."

Deputy Children's Commissioner for England, Sue Berelowitz, said the report was excellent, but said responsibility did not only lie with the media.

"Parents need to be stepping in and taking control, they need to be imposing good boundaries, they need to know what their children are watching, people need to be really careful about children having private access to the internet in their bedrooms," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at Kent University, said society as a whole and adults were to blame.

He said: "The whole of society is hypersexualised - sex becomes the common currency through which adults make their way in the world and continually send a signal to children that sex is all that matters.

"One of the big problems that we are faced with is that increasingly adults have lost the capacity to draw a line between their own attitudes and those of children and increasingly we're recycling adult attitudes about sex through the prism of children."

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