Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Slane girl's agony highlights need for a frank talk on sex

Party girls: teenagers are under pressure in a world where early sexualisation is everywhere, not least with icons like Rihanna
Party girls: teenagers are under pressure in a world where early sexualisation is everywhere, not least with icons like Rihanna

Because now, more than ever, parents need to talk to their children not just about sex, but about a lot of old-fashioned stuff like responsibility, self-respect and integrity.

You would want a heart of stone not to feel sorry for the poor girl who was so distraught when she realised that explicit pictures of her had gone viral that she had to be sedated in hospital.

No-one deserves the opprobrium she received but, sadly, trial by social media is part of the world in which we live.

Let it be a salutary tale for other teenage girls who think they know how to party but have not yet got the emotional maturity to back it up, or even the common sense to realise that when you're in a public place, you are surrounded by people with camera phones.

And yes, I put the emphasis on teenage girls. Note what while the outpouring of abuse was hurled at this poor girl, the man involved received no such vitriol. Some things never change.

What are parents to do in this world where kids are sexualised from an early age and a lot of it is beyond their control? We don't want to hark back to the bad old days when sex was taboo, sex outside of wedlock a sin and everyone was supposed to walk up the aisle a virgin.

Yeah, right.

But in our rush to release the shackles of sexual oppression of our youth, how did we go from that madness to this strange new world where decorum is a dirty world, oral sex is as casual as kissing and drunken celebrities become role models for teenagers? What happened?

The sexualisation of young girls is now so pervasive, it has prompted various bodies to call for a clampdown on the sexualised 'wallpaper' surrounding children. They want to crack down on issues like inappropriate pre-watershed content on TV, sexual content in advertising and internet pornography.

This early sexualisation is everywhere, not least in the world of fashion. How many times have some chain stores had to be pressured to stop selling skimpy underwear to nine-year-olds? Too many. And how many teenage girls did I see this long, hot summer wearing 'cheeky shorts' – ie shorts that expose the wearer's lower bottom? Way too many.

Is this the long-term effect of kids growing up seeing images of scantily clad women in provocative poses on the covers of lads' magazines in their local newsagents?

Or of the likes of Britney Spears being photographed 'going commando'? Of Rihanna letting it all hang out, or Miley Cyrus shaking off her wholesome Hannah Montana image and singing about 'shakin' it like we at a strip club'?

And, ahem, have their parents lost the power of speech? "You're not going out in that", would be a start.

"Oh, if I told my daughter that she'd laugh at me," said one mum and I wondered, who is the parent here? The role of any mother or father is not to be our children's best friend, it's to be a parent and that means setting boundaries and making sure they're understood.

This is not a call to puritanism. On the contrary, it involves accepting that young people are sexual beings and giving them the tools they need to understand and deal with that.

They need to know what is and is not appropriate behaviour so that they can make good judgment calls, at least some of the time.

Sometimes, they'll make mistakes. We all do – and in the grand scheme of things, let's remember that the girl at the centre of the recent controversy did not blow up a building or rob a granny.

But she has learned much from this incident, as will have many other girls her age if their parents use it as an example to generate family discussion and empower their children to make more careful choices as they grow up.

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