Sexualisation of your children

Smiling mother having a walk with her daughter in a park on a summers dayLast week I attended a lecture by Melinda Tankard Reist. It was quite a confronting talk about emotional desensitisation and the sexploitation of our children. She talked about the “everyday trafficking” and adultification of our children where even the sexual poses of our kids being photographed normalises and eroticises sexual behaviour. She has an organisation called “Collective Shout” (www.collectiveshout.org) that has an aim of a world free of sexploitation.

She cited some horrific statistics.

  • Sexualisation contributes to impaired cognitive performance and body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, low self-esteem, depressive effects.
  • ¼ young people in Australia between 16-24 have a mental disorder.
  • 90% increase in older adolescents self harming in the last 10 years. 60% increase in 12-14 year olds hospitalised as a result of self-harm between 1996-2006.
  • Eating disorders are the largest killer of girls in Australia.
  • 1:10 adolescent girls are bulimic, 1:100 adolescent girls are anorexic.
  • 1:4 teenage girls in Australia want to have plastic surgery because they are dissatisfied with their looks.
  • 50% increase in genital surgery for 15-23 year olds in Australia having labioplasty for looks.
  • 88% teenage nude selfies end up on porn sites, with 11 year olds at school the average age for sexting (texting nude selfies) and it common for 9 year olds to sext.
  • 1:3 girls experience sexual assault.
  • Largest group of porn consumers are 12-17 year olds, with the average 1st experience being 11 years old.
  • Common apps for primary children include a plastic surgery app and a stripping game app.
  • Grand theft Auto Game for kids – buy a prostitute and then they murder her in the game.
  • Internet groups work out the most common typing mistakes made by children when searching the internet and link these mistakes to porn sites.
  • ‘Pro Mia’ (for bulimia) and ‘Pro Ana’ (for Anorexia) – online communities of hundreds of thousands teenage girls to encourage each other to remain faithful in losing weight.

She stated that the most common signs you may see for someone battling with anorexia are:

  • Cutting food into tiny pieces
  • Only eating out of a specific bowl/plate
  • Always working out/exercising
  • Skipping family meals, always having an excuse of too busy, I’ll come when I finish this homework, be there soon etc
  • Don’t like eating out at restaurants as can’t control their eating as much
  • Voice in their head hearing you say, “don’t listen to her, she wants you to be fat”.

Internet safety: Susan McLean (a former police women) has published a book called “Sexts, Texts & Selfies: how to keep your children safe in the digital space”. Parents – this book is a fantastic resource of do’s and don’ts re the internet and devices. I highly recommend it. She states up front that it is illegal for any child under 13 to have an Instagram, facebook, twitter or google account and that as parents we are unethical in teaching them it is o’kay to do illegal things if we let them have an account before this age. She advocates simple things like having an email account with no year of birth in it so that a predator will not know how old your child is, dealing with passwords safely, internet safety protection, which apps and social media to be wary of and why etc. It is a very easy to read book full of essential advice. A must read!!

Chat with your kids: Have a chat with you kids 1 on 1. Ask them how they feel about sex, porn etc. Say “you may see something on the computer that is not right, that makes you feel sick etc. If you do, please tell us immediately.” Let them know that they won’t get into trouble for telling you. Many kids apparently don’t tell their parents about seeing porn because they think their parents will ban the internet all together.

Over the last week I have been chatting with my kids about these issues. They respond by saying “Mum’s been reading that sex book again (“Sexts, texts and Selfies” by Susan McLean). Even though they have joked about it and think that anything sexual is horrible, they have actually revealed a lot. One child responded how a close friend only the week before had showed them a pornographic image on the computer and that friend was bragging about how they know how to look at all this stuff on the computer. Thankfully it had a black line through certain body parts and my kid looked away but they had kept this to themselves. With me raising the issue, that child told me what had happened and we brainstormed various strategies should that child ever be in that situation again. We also looked at strategies we needed to implement for safe guarding my child with their close friend. I want my child to always be able to share with me what is happening.

Strategies for parents:

  • Educate yourself on this topic first.
  • Read the book, “Sexts, Texts & Selfies” by Susan McLean
  • Teach your children to value themselves for who they are rather than how they look.
  • Teach your children to value people of the opposite sex as friends, not sexual objects.
  • Watch what your children are watching and reading. Ask questions. Listen to your children.
  • Teach your children about internet safety and how you are always leaving a digital footprint with whatever you write or post on the internet.
  • Steve Biddulph (parenting expert especially on raising boys) advocates <1 hour/day screen time (includes all screens).
  • Speak up and advocate for change with manufacturers, retail stores, television stations, media producers etc when products sexualise girls. The shop “Cotton On” recently had wallpaper in their change rooms that stated “A dress makes no sense unless it inspires men to take it off you”.
  • If you don’t like a tv show, CD, type of toy, say why. Have a conversation with your children about it. Don’t just ban it without letting your children know.
  • Chat with your children about what they want to wear and why. Try to understand things from your child’s point of view before stating your opinions.
  • Encourage your children to have other interests and develop skills that don’t focus on personal appearance.
  • Provide healthy role models for your children.
  • Never criticise your child’s weight.
  • Remember it is your example and values that your children will copy.
  • Above all, maintain a good relationship with your children.

Silence is the language of complicity… Speaking out is the language of change.

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